Fire killed Harrison Co. man, but alert dog may have saved life of neighbor

Published: Dec. 13, 2014 at 2:06 AM CST|Updated: Dec. 13, 2014 at 10:54 AM CST
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Four-year-old beagle Riley helped helped alert owner Jimmy Bird to the fire. (Photo source: WLOX)
Four-year-old beagle Riley helped helped alert owner Jimmy Bird to the fire. (Photo source: WLOX)

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - An early morning fire at the Lakeview RV Resort on Highway 15 in Harrison County claimed the life of 66-year-old James Kuykendall, Jr.

Coroner Gary Hargrove ruled the cause of death accidental, from smoke inhalation, after a space heater caught fire.

Kuykendall was the only occupant in the RV, but the tragedy could have been much worse, especially for next door neighbor Victor Thomas, if not for a little dog named Riley.

"I've been through the Vietnam War and saw people get hit with white phosphorus and grenades, but nothing like this," Thomas said.

He lives just feet from the trailer where his neighbor and friend was killed in the inferno.

Another neighbor from across the street, Jimmy Bird, heard the commotion from the fire first and wouldn't stop until he woke Thomas and got him to safety.

"I run down the back side of his trailer just beating and beating," Bird said. "I said, 'I'm going to scare him to death, but I'm going to get him out.'"

It was a close call.

"When I came out, my trailer was smoking," Thomas said. "It burned the side of my truck all up."

Bird and his wife, Brandy, give credit to another hero of the evening. Their 4-year-old beagle, Riley.

"Everybody was asleep, and she woke up," Brandy said. "She was barking and woke my husband up and woke me up, and there was a huge fire over here."

Riley woke the Birds in time to get Thomas out, but not in time to save Kuykendall.

"I wanted to try to get him out," Bird said. "The door was not on flames yet, but as I started getting up close to it, it made a loud, popping, hissing noise and started shooting fire, and the door was engulfed and I just knew, you know. I screamed and hollered and screamed and hollered for him, but I never heard nothing."

Firefighters arrived about 15 minutes later.

"My little boy says to me, 'Mama, mama, the firemen are here and they're going to save the man,'" Brandy said. "And I said, 'No baby. I hope they do, but I don't think they will.' And my little girl says, 'Let's just pray.' That right there just broke me. That broke me."

The Harrison County Fire Marshall's Office and the Harrison County Sheriff's Office investigated the case.

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