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Barking dog alerts couple to fire in Oldsmar home

Mike Brenner holds Savannah, whose barking woke him early Monday. “Everybody made it out safe,” including their other dog.
Mike Brenner holds Savannah, whose barking woke him early Monday. “Everybody made it out safe,” including their other dog.
Published Jun. 19, 2012

OLDSMAR — Patti Autore's 6-year-old wheaten terrier barks in her living room every morning as neighbors head to work.

But on Monday morning, the barks sounded urgent. At 8 a.m., Autore and her boyfriend, Mike Brenner, were awakened as Savannah continued to bark and even walked into their bedroom.

Brenner, 47, and Autore, 49, followed Savannah. Smoke was seeping through the doggy door.

When they opened the garage, all they could see was black smoke. They scooped up their pets, ran outside and called 911.

For the rest of the morning, Autore watched firefighters battle the blaze that ruined her home of 13 years. The fire engulfed the garage and the attic. The back windows were blown out.

"It was like a Hollywood movie set," Brenner said.

And the star, they both agreed, was Savannah.

"The little hero," Autore called her.

Autore's 911 call was received at 8:06 a.m. About 25 firefighters from several fire departments, among them Clearwater, Oldsmar, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor and East Lake, responded to the house at 204 Bedford St. and had the fire under control in about 20 minutes. From the fire station about a half-mile away, Oldsmar Fire Chief Dean O'Nale said he spotted a thick column of black smoke coming from the 1,100-square-foot home.

No injuries were reported, but the house was deemed uninhabitable. Ninety percent of the house was ruined by fire, smoke and water, O'Nale said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but doesn't appear to be suspicious, O'Nale said. It may have been an electrical problem with a refrigerator in the garage.

Among the items lost in the fire were Brenner's motorcycles that he kept in the garage. Out of four, he was able to save one. Autore and Brenner haven't had a chance yet to sift through all their belongings and see what else made it through the fire.

The couple also has another dog, Max, a 5-year-old Great Pyrenees who is the quieter of their two pets.

"I call her (Savannah) the watchdog, and then he's the backup because he's just big and quiet," Autore said, laughing.

After the fire was out, a friend took Max and Savannah for the day.

"We took them to a secure location because now they're celebrities," Brenner joked. "You think the president is valuable? My dog is more valuable than the president."

The couple's neighbors stepped up to help, too. Someone offered to pay for their stay at a Residence Inn. Another bought Brenner clothes at Walmart. Neighbors hauled out coolers with food and drinks. The natural pet food store Munchies, where Autore is a regular, donated dog food for Savannah and Max.

"I'm really overwhelmed with all the generosity of everybody that I know," Autore said. "It's very heartwarming and makes me feel lucky."

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On Monday, Autore and Brenner were looking for a place where they can stay with their dogs.

"Everybody made it out safe," Brenner said. "You can always replace stuff."

Laura C. Morel can be reached at (727) 893-8713 or Alli Langley can be reached at