Flames fully envelop the home of Martha (Wallace) Johnson and her son, Drew Johnson, at 404 Park Street in Tarkio on Thursday, November 14, 2019. Martha made it out safely (Drew was not home at the time), thanks to neighbor Johnathon Stout, who heard a cry for help and ran down the street, kicked the door open, made his way through the dark, smoke-filled house, and pulled Martha out. Unfortunately, it only took seconds for the fire to cover their path and there was no way to get back inside to save the animals, which perished in the fire.
The fire at the Johnson residence in Tarkio had everyone pitching in to help, including volunteer fireman Mike Lewis of Fairfax, who didn’t let the fact he had no gear stop him from assisting with the water hose.
Tarkio volunteer firemen Danny McCoy and Wes Lopez assist another fireman with spraying the flames.
Rubble is all that remains of Martha and Drew Johnson’s home. Pictured is what remains of the bedroom in the southeast corner of the home.
Pictured is what is left of the west side entrance of the Johnson residence. This was the door that Johnathon kicked in to save Martha from the fire.
A devastating fire tore through a home in Tarkio on Thursday afternoon leaving three dogs dead and a mother and son homeless and with only the clothes on their backs. The fire could have quickly turned even more tragic, but thanks to so many people risking their own lives at the scene, many lives were saved.
The call went out at 4:31 p.m. on Thursday, November 14, 2019, at the home of Martha (Wallace) Johnson and her son, Drew, at 404 Park Street. Drew was not home at the time, but Martha was. She had been resting when she was awakened by flames and black, rolling smoke (it is suspected that a space heater had tipped over and caught some clothes on fire).
A block up the street, Martha’s neighbor, Johnathon Stout, was underneath his jacked up truck working on it when he heard a faint scream for help. He crawled out from under his truck, lowered the jack, and looked down the street, not hearing a sound. He said, “I just happened to turn to my right and I barely caught a small glimpse of a minute amount of white smoke coming from a window of a house down the street.
“I take off running to this house, I get to the back door (what’s closest to me) and grab the handle. It was pretty warm, so I turn around and kicked the door open, smoke just comes pouring out. I hollered inside to see if anyone was in there, and Martha starts yelling ‘help, help!’”
John entered the home that was so filled with black smoke he could not see his hands stretched out in front of his face. Crouching down and hollering to Martha to keep talking, he made his way inside the home until he felt something brush his hand and realized it was Martha. He pulled her outside and asked her if there was anyone else inside. Though her son was thankfully not at home at this time, her dogs were still in the house. Johnathon attempted to reenter the home, but by then the heat was so intense and the fire had spread so much there was no way to enter or exit. Unfortunately, the dogs, Chop Chop, K-9 and Candi Girl perished in the fire, but thanks to John’s quick and heroic action, Martha made it out unharmed. It should be noted that this heroic action is truly a miracle. Though John will say he’s not a hero, take the following under consideration. Not only was John clear up the street, out of sight to Martha’s house while lying under his truck, but he also has significant hearing damage from working overseas along with tinnitus, loud constant ringing in his ears, so the chances of him actually hearing her were extremely slim.
Even more incredible, the danger was not over yet. The home has a gas furnace and the gas was still on. Local gas service man Kenny Neal of Tarkio arrived at the scene, grabbed his gear and ran to the outside of the burning home to turn off the gas. Even though the fire was pouring out of nearby windows, Kenny was able to turn off the gas and get the meter dismantled before the fire could cause an explosion. If that had happened, not only would it have immediately killed or injured the many people nearby (working in different capacities), but it also could’ve caused a secondary explosion as the house that sits to the east of the Johnson residence is also hooked up to gas and sits less than ten feet away. As it was, that property’s fence had already caught fire, but the Tarkio Volunteer Firemen were able to put it out keeping the fire from spreading.
Others helping at the scene were Police Chief Tyson Gibbons who helped clear traffic from the road to make way for the fire trucks and Curtis Hedrick with Tarkio Board of Public Works who was able to turn off the water to the house. The Tarkio Volunteer Firemen responded with four trucks and around 18 firemen and Rock Port Fire Department responded with at least two trucks and half a dozen men. Fairfax volunteer fireman Mike Lewis also stopped by to lend a helping hand and stood just a few feet away from the flames holding hoses, even though he had no protective gear with him. The firemen stayed for hours keeping the fire from spreading to nearby properties with water hoses fixed on all sides. With the gallons of water in the pumper trucks and gallons of water from the fire hydrant, over 10,000 gallons of water was used. As morning light dawned, the sun shone on a now pile of rubble of what was once the Johnson residence. And the pile still smoldered. Though it is such a tragic event, so many people came together to make sure what unfolded wasn’t worse and everyone involved stayed safe.
Due to the uncontrollable fire leaving absolutely no time to grab anything, Martha and Drew literally only had whatever clothes they were wearing that day. Since the fire, clothing donations and some furniture items have flooded in. The Johnsons are still in need of the essentials, and personal hygiene products, as well as towels and wash cloths. Though Martha and Drew are still looking for a place to live, a storage unit has been supplied so that they can store their donations until a residence is found. They are still in need of a table and chairs, kitchenware (silverware, dishes, pots and pans), bed pillows, ect. Monetary donations would also be greatly appreciated. If you can donate, please contact Starla Livengood to set up a time to meet and she will make sure Martha and Drew receive the donations.