JACKTOWN — Pal wandered onto Susan Harmon's doorstep, scraggly, with protruding rib bones and a limp like he'd been swiped by a car.
Her family nursed the Labrador mix back to health.
This week, he returned the favor and rescued them from a fire that left their rural Lincoln County home near Jacktown in ruins.
“We probably would have died without him,” said Harmon, 53. “We don't know where he came from, maybe heaven.”
It was Sunday night. Harmon's wheelchair-bound mother, Donna Gilliam, 79, was fast asleep in the living room. Her father, Harold Gilliam, 82, slumbered in a bedroom while her son, Walt Harmon, 24, slept in another.
Susan Harmon was watching a movie and nodding off when Pal nudged open her bedroom door. She tried to ignore the dog.
“He kept pawing at my arm and wouldn't stop. Then he started whining and looking at the bedroom door,” she said.
She finally gave in, got up and swung open door. In rushed so much smoke it immediately filled the room.
“I couldn't see past my own hand,” Susan Harmon said. “I yelled at Walt, ‘You get Papa, and I'll get Momma.'”
Susan Harmon placed her mother into her wheelchair and pushed her to safety. Walt Harmon roused his grandfather and carried him outside.
On his way out, he grabbed a bottle of water and T-shirt. Once outside, he wet the shirt, covered his mouth and went back inside in hopes of putting out the fire.
The smoke was so black and powerful, he couldn't see the flames. He was able to rescue two small family pets before he could hardly breathe. Pal also made it out of the house.
Paramedics later treated him for excessive smoke inhalation.
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.