On Tuesday, the Little Elm Fire Department honored a heroic teenager after she helped evacuate a family from a burning home.
The fire sparked from a lightning strike during severe storms the night of February 25. The lightning strikes from the storms potentially caused more than a dozen house fires across North Texas – especially in Denton and Collin counties.
At least three of those fires were in Little Elm. That's the same night 18-year old Madelyn Radabaugh was driving home from work.
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When she turned into her neighborhood, she saw smoke pouring from a house in her neighborhood and sprang into action.
“I jumped from the car, I didn’t even park it. I left it in the middle of the street and ran out,” she described.
She pounded on the door and screamed through the windows.
She happened to know Isabella, a girl she works with who lived inside the home. Radabaugh called her and was able to wake up the family, successfully evacuating three people and animals out of the home.
“She was screaming through the door and into the phone your house is on fire!” recalled Rochelle Chambers, Isabella’s mom. “At that moment, I looked up at the attic pulldown above me and I could see the orange glow in the cracks. I knew she was right. And then I froze.”
The family said they had no idea the house was on fire.
“It could have turned out so much differently. I don’t know if we would have woken up. I don’t know if smoke would’ve started to fill the house and if the alarms would’ve gone off or if Isabella would’ve noticed. I don’t know how much longer she would’ve stayed awake," said Chambers.
What sounded like hail hitting the roof, was actually crackling flames in the attic that were quickly spreading.
“The fact that she got out of her car in the middle of a storm, I mean it was thundering, lightning and raining and she still got out. And knew what she needed to do,” said Chambers. “I’m super grateful because we might not be here. It’s just a house, it’s all replaceable. We are not.”
Radabaugh said she normally doesn’t come home around the time that she did the night of the fire but fate brought her to the right place at the right time.
“If you see something, take action,” she said. “I’m just glad that Isabella, her mom and her brother and everyone and the animals are alright.”
Little Elm fire chief Paul Rust honored Radabaugh with a citizen achievement award Tuesday night in a socially distant and virtual ceremony.
He said what she did was crucial because it's easy for lightning fires to burn out of control before people know it’s there.
"We’re very proud of her, it was very brave act. She was able to alert the folks that their house is on fire," he said. “If the fire is in the attic, you’re not going to get alerted by your smoke detectors that are in the home."
With storms predicted this week, he's warning people -- if they can -- to check the attic or roof immediately if they think lightning has struck.
“Don’t wait,” he said. “When fire departments respond to these lightning fires, it has an advanced start because it’s burned undetected above the occupants in the attic for many minutes before someone finally notices.”
As for the family, half the house was destroyed so they are currently living in a hotel.
Community fundraisers are helping them get back on their feet. Click here if you would like to donate to help.