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Eight-year-old Mammoth girl calls 911, likely saves family’s life

January 13, 2012

Hana MacLean in her school photo. Photo/Supplied
It was the smoke alarm shrieking into the deepest hours of the night that woke eight-year-old Hana MacLean of Mammoth Lakes and probably saved her life.
 
It was Hana, though, who likely saved her parents lives shortly thereafter.
 
It was sometime around midnight on Jan. 10 and Mammoth was fast asleep, including Hana. 
 
But when the alarm went off, mother Rachel Babula said, Hana woke up.
 
She opened her downstairs bedroom door and saw smoke and flames. Grabbing a blanket to cover her face, something she had learned from her retired corrections officer father, James MacLean, she ran outside, yelling at the top of her lungs, trying to get help.
 
A neighbor heard her and called 911.
 
By then, the Evergreen Street house in Old Mammoth was partially in flames. Rachel and her husband, Christopher Babula, were still inside.
 
Hana ran back into the house to try to rouse her stepfather on the first floor just as the fire engines arrived.
 
Her mother was still asleep in the upstairs bedroom, half-unconscious due to carbon monoxide and smoke. The smoke detector on the second floor, unlike the ones downstairs, didn’t work properly, according to Rachel, adding to the danger.
 
By the time firefighters arrived at the scene, the flames were covering about 25 to 35 percent of the house, Mammoth Lakes Firefighter Thom Heller said.
 
Firefighters entered the house to find Christopher helping his wife, but visibly lethargic due to smoke and carbon monoxide, Heller said.
 
Eventually, the two adults got out of the home safely and were reunited with Hana.
 
“That little girl is the real hero,” Heller said. “I truly believe if she hadn’t woken up and called for help, something much worse would have happened.”
 
He said the levels of carbon monoxide in the house were high enough to seriously impair both adults, especially Rachel, who was on the top floor where heat and gas were more concentrated.
 
Carbon monoxide poisoning makes it difficult to think, move and breathe. Too much can cause brain damage and eventually death.
 
“The doctors told me the level of the gas in my blood was extremely high,” Rachel said. “I didn’t have much more time left.
 
Thank goodness for Hana. 
 
It was her clear thinking, and her actions, that made the difference. She is really a remarkable child. She is not afraid of anything, she’s not afraid to voice her opinion, and she has always, ever since she was young, always tried to take care of everything around her—animals, her friends, even me. And I am so glad her father taught her how to get out of a burning house.”
 
Rachel said the fact that Hana’s room was closed off from the smoke probably prevented the child from being as impacted by the smoke and carbon monoxide as the two adults.
 
The family’s pets, including a St. Bernard puppy and a chinchilla, were also rescued. The family is living in a friend’s lodging nearby, looking for a permanent home. They lost much of their furniture and clothes. 
 
The fire caused about $150,000 damage, Heller said.
 
The cause of the fire is still being investigated, but Heller said that at least one factor that contributed to the fire is known.
 
The family was burning pressed-wood logs, which burn much hotter than natural wood logs. The buildup of heat in the fireplace insert contributed to the fire escaping the insert and catching something else on fire, he said.
 
“The logs often are delivered to Mammoth residents in bulk, and the warning that is on the individually wrapped logs that tells people to only burn one pressed wood log (Presto is the most common brand) is not there,” he said. “We have seen this before. It’s very, very important that people only burn one of these logs at a time.”

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