A Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputy, with a neighbor's help, saved a family of four from the top floor of their Key Largo home early Sunday morning.
No injuries were reported from the fire that reportedly started inside a boat parked beneath the home, according to Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Deputy Becky Herrin.
Firefighters had the flames extinguished within 20 minutes.
A neighbor called for help at 6:37 a.m. after spotting a large plume of smoke. More callers reported a boat on fire at a single-family home at 105 La Paloma Road.
That boat became a dangerous obstacle Sunday morning, having been parked aside the only entrance to the home, Herrin said. Heat and flames combined with the vessel to trap the family members on the upper story.
Deputy Dave Campbell was the first officer to arrive on the scene. He grabbed a ladder from the construction site next-door and instructed the family members -- Richard and Yvette Ardauis and their two 10-year-old boys, Max and Ethen, -- to climb down.
But before that could start, the first responders had to improvise in order to save one member of the family: their 75-pound Boxer dog, Spike, also awaiting rescue.
They did this South Florida-style.
They told Richard Ardauis to drop the dog into the pool below.
With Spike safely plunged into the 234 square-foot pool, each family member used the ladder to get out of the home.
"He went right to the bottom of the pool, the officers pulled him out," said Philip Darche, a neighbor on La Paloma who was the first person on the scene. "He just wagged his tail and he was fine. And he hates water, too."
Darche, 59, a retired air traffic controller, was up at about 6:20 a.m. and went outside to let his cats in when he immediately noticed the unmistakable stench of something electrical burning.
"The smell was so intense," he said. "I got in the car. I'm in shorts and flip flops. It's 6:30 a.m. and a Sunday. Something was up."
About ten houses down, Darche found the stench's source.
The deputy and firefighters were on the scene en masse within a couple of minutes after Darche's 6:37 a.m. call to 911.
But for those first two minutes, it was only Darche there, with black smoke billowing from the boat's outboard motor, which was on fire, and the family apparently asleep.
Darche chucked big rocks at the upstairs windows and screamed himself hoarse, with no luck at raising the family.
"Since the windows were hurricane windows, the occupants were truly trapped inside," Herrin said Sunday.
It was the family dog, said Darche, who began barking at the noise outside.
"The dog woke them up, and they realized there was a fire and they could not get out the front door," said Darche. "This could have been an ugly scene."