Peanut, a tiny black Chihuahua, saved the lives of three generations of a Lutz family on June 3, when his insistent barking awakened family members at 3 a.m., alerting them to a fire in the rear of their home.
Peanut’s barking from her crate awakened Jeff DeRolf and his 26-year-old daughter, Maria, who together started down the stairs to see why the dog was barking.
“When I was about halfway down the stairs, I heard my mother scream at the top of her lungs,” said Maria. “Our French doors leading to our back patio were engulfed in flames.”
Those screams woke up the rest of the family — Maria’s 22-year-old brother, Jeff, her 7-year-old daughter, Michelle, and a friend of Jeff’s who was spending the night. They all were able to get to the front of the house and get out safely.
Sadly, Peanut did not survive.
“My dad and brother started back into the house to get Peanut, but by then the smoke was thick and was pouring out of the house,” Maria said. “My brother actually had to hold my dad back to stop him from going back in.”
Peanut, just 6 pounds and still a puppy at a year-and-a-half, was technically her daughter’s dog, Maria said. “But, everyone loved Peanut. Her barking saved all of our lives — she is our hero.”
The family escaped from the house with just the clothes on their backs.
“We were able to retrieve my grandfather’s ashes and a few pieces of clothing, but that was all,” Maria said.
That means everything else was gone — every treasure that a family of five has amassed after 30 years of living in one place.
Jeff and Carmen DeRolf moved into their two-story home at 17838 Morninghigh Drive in the Barrington subdivision before they had their children.
“This is the house that we lived in for our whole lives. It’s where we took our first steps, as well as the next generation’s,” said Maria.
A Go Fund Me Account under the DeRolf name has been established for the family to help with expenses not covered by insurance. As of June 13, more than $4,700 had been raised.
“The amount of love and support coming our way is amazing. Thank you to everyone who has donated. Whether it be money or physical items, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” Maria said.
The DeRolf family wants people to know the house had working smoke detectors.
“The fire started in the back of the house and the smoke detectors were more towards the front, so the dog woke us up before the smoke detectors went off,” Maria explained.
The family’s homeowner’s insurance is paying for temporary housing at the Marriott Residence Inn in Telecom Park until a rental home can be leased.
Maria said the home is a total loss, and insurance company says it will be at least a year until their home is rebuilt.
Maria said the cause of the fire has not been found, and the fire marshal has begun an investigation.
In addition to suffering the loss of his home, Jeff DeRolf is currently undergoing chemotherapy at Moffitt Cancer Center for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Maria said her father’s cancer was first diagnosed in 2008, and occurred again just six months ago.
The family gathered the day after the fire to bury Peanut — the little dog that saved them all — in their backyard, next to Duke, a German Shepard they had before Peanut.
“When the firefighters retrieved Peanut’s body, her body was not burned, and we know she died of smoke inhalation,” said Maria. “We were thankful for that.”
Here are ways you can help
GoFundMe.com, Search DeRolf Family Fire Recovery
Clothing for Michelle
Girls size 8
Shoes size 2-3
Maniscalco Elementary School Uniforms
Collared shirts in white, blue, grey and maroon
Jeans, pants and skirts in white, blue, grey and maroon
Those wishing to contribute clothing or other items are welcome to bring them to The Laker/Lutz News office, at 3632 Land O’Lakes Blvd., Suite 102, in Land O’ Lakes. The office is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For additional information, call (813) 909-2800.
Published June 15, 2016