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Teen sounds lifesaving alarm

PALM HARBOR — Courtney Smith loves listening to her MP3 player as she sleeps, but when the battery died Tuesday morning, it didn't just wake her up.

It also alerted the 15-year-old to a fire, allowing her and her grandparents to escape an instant before flames triggered a series of explosions.

"She saved our lives," said her grandfather, Larry Smith.

Courtney, a sophomore at Alonso High School in Tampa, was visiting her grandparents in the Highland Lakes neighborhood before going on a vacation with them to Illinois.

She went to bed about 11 p.m. Monday and put in her earbuds. About 1 a.m., the MP3's battery died while playing Rascal Flatts' Bless the Broken Road.

"I turned on the computer to charge it, and I kept hearing noises like someone was walking on the roof or trying to break in the garage," Courtney said.

She ran to her grandparents' bedroom.

"Someone's breaking in! Someone's breaking in!" she yelled.

Tired after a late shift at Lowe's, Larry Smith, 64, walked to the garage and saw his 1998 Chrysler Sebring convertible engulfed in flames.

"I was just in shock," he said.

Thinking quickly, Courtney scooped up the family poodle, 13-year-old Jacques, as the trio ran out of the house.

"They've had him for 10 years," Courtney said. "He means a lot, and I love him."

Just as they scurried to safety, the garage door exploded from its hinges, presumably from the gas tank on the Sebring igniting.

Several smaller explosions followed. When Palm Harbor firefighters arrived, the house was engulfed in flames. They spent nearly an hour battling the blaze at 3448 Sutherland Drive, Palm Harbor Fire Rescue spokeswoman Liz Monforti said.

The house is a total loss with damages estimated at about $200,000, Monforti said."It's definitely not livable," she said.

The cause of the fire was under investigation Tuesday, but officials said it started inside the garage and spread into the roof.

The three stood outside with neighbors for hours while fire investigators checked through the house. Linda Smith said neighbors held her hand as she cried and later provided clothing.

On Tuesday morning, the home's garage door lay in a metal heap in the driveway. The Smiths canceled their vacation and planned to stay with neighbors.

But all they have are the suitcases they packed the night before, and even those were damaged by smoke and water.

As neighbors and strangers talked to Linda Smith, they all praised Courtney.

"And," Smith said of her granddaughter, "she deserves every bit of it."

Teen sounds lifesaving alarm 07/08/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 9, 2008 4:56pm]
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