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Dog credited for saving Oklahoma family from fire

A dog Susan Harmon took in and nursed back to health roused her from dozing when her family's house near Jacktown, OK, caught fire Sunday night.
BY ANN KELLEY akelley@opubco.com Published: July 21, 2011

/articleid/3587373/1/pictures/1469354">Photo - Walt Harmon, 24, sits with his dog, Pal, a mutt, at the back of what's left of his family's home Tuesday afternoon, July 19, 2011. The dog awakened Walt's mother,  Susan Harmon with constant barking Sunday night when their home caught fire. Walt credits the pet with saving his life and allowing him to rescue his mother, and her parents, Harold and Donna Gilliam.  from the smoke-filled home before it was destroyed by flames.   The home is in rural Lincoln County about six miles north of Jacktown.     Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
Walt Harmon, 24, sits with his dog, Pal, a mutt, at the back of what's left of his family's home Tuesday afternoon, July 19, 2011. The dog awakened Walt's mother, Susan Harmon with constant barking Sunday night when their home caught fire. Walt credits the pet with saving his life and allowing him to rescue his mother, and her parents, Harold and Donna Gilliam. from the smoke-filled home before it was destroyed by flames. The home is in rural Lincoln County about six miles north of Jacktown. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

The Gilliams had lived for more than 40 years in the modest, frame house on land Harold Gilliam's family settled before statehood.

Harold Gilliam, a Korean War veteran, retired as a diesel mechanic in Oklahoma City. His wife had managed a restaurant.

When their health began to decline, the mother and son moved in with the Gilliams.

Susan Harmon worked for years at a nearby nursing home and cared for her parents during the day. Walt Harmon, a security trainer for FireLake Grand Casino, watches over them at night.

“I grew up around my grandparents and in that house,” said Walt Harmon, pointing out a weeping willow he and his grandfather planted together in the front yard when he was a boy.

The tree was spared, but the home and almost everything inside was reduced to ashes.

Firefighters said they think the fire started in the kitchen, possibly caused by an electrical malfunction.

Susan Harmon said insurance likely will pay off the home's mortgage, but there will be little left to rebuild.

She said her parents have lived on a fixed income for many years and used the equity in their property to get by.

The family is staying in a hotel and receiving help from the Lincoln County American Red Cross chapter.

Susan Harmon managed to pull one treasure from the charcoal — the remainder of a photograph album with pictures and news clipping of nursing home patients she cared for throughout the years.

She said she's sure the spirits of the ones who have died were there helping her family escape the fire.

And she's sure Pal has a touch of angel behind his big brown eyes and red coat.

The reward for his heroics was a large bag of his favorite treats.


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