JANUARY 7, 2010

Les Schilling, an Orofino man, holding his beloved, little dogs (l to r) Pookah and Yanna, long-haired Chihuahuas who awakened him when a fire destroyed his home. Photo by A. Allbrett

Two little heroes save Les Schilling’s life

“Their barking doesn’t bother me any more”

By Alannah Allbrett

   Les Schilling, 55, born and raised in Orofino, lost his home at 716 Floyd Avenue, near Clearwater Valley Hospital and Clinics after midnight Dec. 23. Due to brain surgery, he takes medication, “which knocks me out,” he said. He said a fire engine in the neighborhood a year before did not wake him.

   Les was sleeping in their basement bedroom; his wife Andrea and daughter Nicole, 15, were visiting family in southern California for the holidays. Shortly after midnight, he heard his two four-year-old dogs Pookah and Yanna begin to bark.

   The dogs barked persistently enough to awaken him. Les said that he couldn’t figure out what they were barking at, because there was no smoke in the bedroom. “I couldn’t smell it or see it,” he said. He heard some loud “clunking noises” and thought it must be his other dog, a 120 pound shepherd mix that was outside at the time. Then he heard some popping sounds and knew it must be something else.

   He opened one of his basement doors, and the room was full of smoke and flames. He closed the door again quickly, grabbed a cordless phone, and exited out of a second basement door. He tried to call 911, but there was no dial tone. The phone or line up stairs had already burned.

   In his sweats, he ran to several neighbors’ houses for help. At the third neighbor’s house, Mike and Shiloh Nason, he was able to rouse them to call the fire department. The police arrived in three to four minutes. They felt the door for heat and could see the windows were already blackened.

   The fire department arrived moments later. They said if he had not closed the basement door, the whole structure would have burned down. It is estimated that there is approximately $80,000 in damage. Les said he doesn’t know everything yet, “But I know I’m going to lose a lot.” He was able to retrieve his and his wife’s clothes, but all of his daughter’s things were lost.

   There are many heroes in this story, but the ones credited with saving Les Schilling’s life are the two little sisters Pookah and Yanna, long-haired Chihuahuas the family has had for four years. The dogs’ names, Les said, are from a native South American dialect: Pookah meaning “black” and Yanna meaning “red.”

   Les also has an indoor/outdoor cat that showed up two days after the fire, unharmed. He has left a bed, and food out for the cat, and neighbors are checking on it. His larger dog is being housed by John and Diane Farbo whom Les stayed with the first night after the fire.

   Les said his family will probably be staying at the Helgeson Place Hotel for a couple of months until they get things straightened out.

   The Schilling family wishes to thank the many friends and family members who have made offers of help and sent well wishes. He would especially like to thank Paul and Lee Pippenger of Brookside Landing (where his wife Andrea works) for their great help.

   They also wish to thank Riverview Construction (John Anderson & Rick Burnham), the Orofino Fire Department for their speedy appearance, Mark and Lisa Ponozzo, John and Diane Farbo, and their neighbors Mike and Shiloh Nason, June and Ruby Finke, Jack Shaw, Marguerite McLaughlin, and Sean and Emily Simmons.

    Les said he was humbled by his son Kacey Schilling, residing in Boise, who set up a fund with US Bank for their benefit.

    Les lost his prized bull elk and white tail deer trophies in the fire, which meant a lot to him as he is no longer able to hunt. But Les is thankful for all his friends and family. Les’ parents Sonny and Annabelle came to Orofino in the 1930’s, raised their five children here, and have been married for 70 years.