CAMDEN — “We really shouldn’t be here,” said Gary Fowlie, talking about the fire that nearly claimed his life and that of his wife on July 23.

“We’re glad to be here,” Lisa Fowlie added.

The Fowlies want to get the message out about fire safety and the importance of basic precautions like having working smoke detectors, keeping bedroom doors closed to slow the spread of flames and toxic smoke, and having a plan for getting out of your home in the event of a fire.

The thing that could never happen to them did, at 3 a.m. on July 23 at their home on the water on Beloin Road. The fire is believed to have started near Gary’s recliner in the living room due to an appliance that was plugged in to recharge.

The couple was sleeping with the air conditioner running in their bedroom and one or more of the home’s seven smoke detectors woke Lisa. She felt the heat coming from the bedroom door and said she thought the house was burning. Gary thought at first that someone was breaking into their home because the heat was already causing windows to break.

Beyond their bedroom door, the air was black with smoke.

As Gary reached the outside of the house, he realized Lisa was not right behind him as he had thought. He took a few gulps of fresh air and went back in.

Lisa had gotten disoriented in the smoke, reached for the wrong door and started to panic. Then she passed out and fell down the steps into the basement breaking her wrist in 17 places in the process. The next thing she remembers is telling Gary to leave her and save himself.

“I’m done,” she said.

Gary told her “We can do this together,” and carried her out of the house.

Fortunately they had gotten out of the house, but they had left quickly without their phones or even their glasses. “I literally didn’t have the shirt on my back,” Gary said.

The keys were in their truck, so they drove to the Stop n’ Go (Village Variety) store at the corner of Elm Street and Belmont Ave. to call 911. The couple owns and operates the store.

Positioned where their house is, if they had not made it out, it is likely the first report of the fire would have come from fishermen in the harbor seeing the burning house.

They went to the hospital with burns, singed hair, smoke inhalation and other injuries. Gary said he noticed that his lips were burned from the super-heated air and hurt when he drank coffee after the near miss.

The investigator from the State Fire Marshal’s Office told Fire Chief Chris Farley he was surprised they were not dealing with one fatality or two from this blaze.

The home on Beloin Road in Camden was gutted by fire in the early hours of the morning July 23. Photo courtesy of Camden Fire & Rescue

“I feel like I’ve been to hell and back,” Gary said. It is a feeling from having faced a wall of flames six feet high in his own home.

Gary and Lisa have been waking up in the night, often around the time of the fire, 3 a.m. They believe they may have post traumatic stress disorder from the experience.

Gary said he is committed to getting the message out about fire safety, which is timely since next week is Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 9-15.

The key to surviving a fire is to have an early warning. Firefighters recommend a smoke detector on every level of the house and one in each bedroom.

Close bedroom doors while you are sleeping.

Map out your house and be sure you have a path of escape. What are the dangers? Do you have more than one way to get down from the second floor? Are all of the doors easy to open and paths clear for quick movement? Remember that in the event of a fire, the smoke will impair vision and the fumes and heat are disorienting.

Fire extinguishers should be placed on the outside of doors so that you can grab them as you are leaving an area. The idea is not to fight your way out with the extinguisher, which will often not have a long-lasting stream, but to be able to fight the fire once you have reached safety.

The first goal should always be to evacuate the home, get to safety and call 911. Do not waste precious time trying to fight the fire yourself, especially not until everyone in the family has been evacuated safely.

It is also important to recognize that fires are not uncommon and modern materials used in building homes, carpets and furniture actually accelerate the speed with which a fire moves. Older homes can take longer to burn than newer ones, according to Farley.

What that means is that people do not have much time to react. Planning ahead can cut down on the time it takes to move to safety.

Farley said he hates electrical extension cords. They are not intended to be in constant use. He suggested looking for the “UL” label for appliances and devices such as surge protectors. This label means they have been lab tested for safety.

Camden Fire & Rescue will provide free home inspections and Camden Rotary Club provides smoke detectors to the department for anyone who needs them. Farley said there is no reason for anyone in Knox County not to have smoke detectors.

Gary said he is also determined to help in the effort.

“I don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” he said.