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Men help save sleeping Roseau man from fire

ROSEAU - Todd Hites was about to take a midday break at his auto shop when he glanced out the window, saw his neighbor's house and did a double take.

"I thought, 'That just ain't quite right,' " he said. "That's a little too much smoke."

Sensing danger, Hites rushed toward the house, knowing his neighbor, Wally Borah, who works the third shift at nearby Polaris Industries, was at home asleep Tuesday.

"We run over there -- and oh my God -- and it was pretty much a mess," Hites said.

Looking in the windows, Hites and Marcus Thompson, an auto shop customer, could see flames inside Borah's A-frame house, which sits five miles west of Roseau.

Hites, 44, and Thompson entered the house through the backdoor, riling up Cocoa Puff. The Pomeranian's barking and the shouting of the two men was enough to wake Borah, who was sleeping in a first-floor bedroom with a pillow over his head, a fan whirring and a sleep-apnea machine running.

"If they wouldn't have shown up, I wouldn't have woke up -- I know that," Borah said.

The three men and the dog escaped unharmed from the house which, Hites said, was filled with smoke and had debris falling from the ceiling.

"It was a really freaky deal," he said. "If it had just been a couple minutes later, I don't know what would have really happened."

Borah, 52, made it out in only his pajamas, so Hites ran back and grabbed a pair of boots from just inside the door. Borah called his wife, Lori, to tell her their house was burning, and that the fire department was on the way.

For Lori, making the 25-mile trip home from work without speeding was a challenge. Eight miles away, she could see a plume of smoke rising in the sky.

"That was an odd sensation," she said. "I knew that was my house, and that was surreal."

Once Lori got there, she had one focus.

"The only thing I was looking for was my husband standing there and to give him a hug and be thankful for that," she said.

The fire consumed the wooden home quickly, breaking windows and gutting the structure. Roseau Fire Chief Tim Skime said the house was a total loss.

Although Hites and Thompson saved Borah, Skime said, many people who go into burning buildings don't come out alive. "They're very lucky," the chief said.

The cause of the blaze is under investigation, but authorities do not suspect foul play.

Borah said it hurt to watch the fire destroy the house he and his family built from the ground up starting in the late '90s.

"It was pretty painful -- put a lot of work into that place," he said.

Borah and his wife, who have two grown sons, are staying in a motel for now as they regroup.

"We got each other, and we got the kids, and thankfully, the doggie, too," Lori said.

The couple said they plan to pay Hites and Thompson a visit today.

"How can you thank someone for what they did?" Lori asked. "I mean, you can't -- you can only try."