ANKENY, Iowa — The day started innocently enough for Chris Pardekooper, but that would quickly change.
“My son has got a new daycare provider, so I brought him over to meet her, spend some time with her, get to know her. As we were leaving, I noticed some smoke coming out of behind this house right here,” he said.
A house the next street over in the 700 block of NE 10th Street in Ankeny had caught fire and was rapidly becoming engulfed. Pardekooper and his daycare provider’s roommate took off toward the house.
“We just threw everything down and jumped over the fence,” said Pardekooper.
The two men split up.
“He ran in, grabbed a towel that was laying by the back door and put it over his face and went upstairs. I grabbed one and went in the dining room or the kitchen or whatever was right there. There was so much smoke. I don’t know what it was,” said Chip Peterson.
The two called out for the family, who was not home at the time. A neighbor says they had just left for vacation. Peterson says there was a moment where he thought he made a mistake.
“When I bumped into the chair and went to the left and bumped into something else and was trying to feel my way around, I was like ‘I better not get too far away from the door because I may not get back out.’ I remember always being told stay low to the ground. There was no staying low to the ground. The smoke was all the way to the floor and there was zero visibility everywhere in the house,” he said.
By that time, a passerby, Mike Mielk, had called 911. Peterson and Pardekooper were out of the house, but Pardekooper was going to do another sweep.
“He was going back in to check again and I was talking to the dispatcher. She said not to let anyone back in, so I pulled him back,” said Mielk.
Luckily, there wasn’t anyone who needed rescuing inside and the two men who were checking got out uninjured. Ankeny fire officials say they can’t recommend doing what the pair did and that no one should enter a burning building, but Pardekooper says he felt he had to.
“You see a house on fire in this kind of neighborhood and you think about the kids, think about people might be sleeping or napping this time in the afternoon. I really don’t know what I was thinking. I just saw fire and thought that if somebody needs help, I might be the first one to see the fire, I’m getting over there,” he said.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, but firefighters say it appears to have started in the garage.