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Libby family safely escapes fire

by Canda HarbaughWestern News
| October 20, 2009 12:00 AM

Marcia Fantozzi was teaching her grandkids – ages 2, 4 and 6 – how to make caramel apples. Amy Fantozzi, their mother, was tidying up the kitchen, her 6-month-old was napping, and her father-in-law, Al Fantozzi, sat in the family room.

The children scrubbed the apples clean and waited for their grandma to demonstrate how to dip them into the caramel that was in a pot on the stove. But their mom and grandma caught a whiff of smoke that Thursday evening.

“About 10 seconds before the explosion, we smelled something and looked around,” Marcia Fantozzi said. “I looked under the burner.”

Then a blast – likely from an ignited tire or can of paint – came from the attached garage. Amy Fantozzi instantly thought of her baby sleeping upstairs.

“Mommy was up those stairs in about two leaps,” Marcia Fantozzi recalled.

Within seconds, everyone was out of the Libby house at 109 Quartz Ave., keeping distance from the hot blaze of a garage fire.

“You didn’t even stop to get shoes or a coat or a blanket for that baby,” Marcia Fantozzi said. “You just ran because there were explosions.”

Barefoot, the family watched the massive flames eat up the garage, the Suburban inside it and the car parked in the driveway. Neighbors and friends gathered outside. Some brought gifts.

“Libby is so wonderful,” Marcia Fantozzi said. “While the firemen were still putting the fire out, people were bringing clothes, diapers and car seats to that family. We had to ask people to hold on to them for a while.”

Though the Libby Volunteer Fire Department wasn’t paged until the garage was already engulfed, firefighters were able to put it out before it spread to the home. The house suffered water and smoke damage.

“I tell you what saved the house was Amy closing the door,” assistant fire marshal Steve Lauer said. “She had the wits about her to close the door between the garage and the home, confining the fire to the garage for a significant amount of time before any smoke or fire got into the house.”

The fire caused between $100,000 and $120,000 worth of damage, Lauer estimated. As of Monday, the cause of the fire was still under investigation.

“We’ve examined some things and done some scene processing but haven’t come to an origin or cause of fire,” Lauer said.

Lauer said the team would hold off on further investigation to allow a private investigator from the family’s insurance company to look over the scene. It’s “pretty typical,” he said, for an insurance company to send someone in when a fire causes that much damage.

The house is uninhabitable, but the family is just grateful that no one was hurt.

“We have so much to be thankful for,” Marcia Fantozzi said. “When we think about the babies, I just can’t explain it. It would have been a tragedy if it happened at night.”

For those who wish to give cash donations, friends of the family set up a Glacier Bank account for homeowners Amy and Tony Fantozzi.