WILKINSON — At first, Mike Sheets thought it was just a trash fire. He was driving down Nashville Road in Wilkinson early Wednesday morning when he spotted smoke billowing into the sky. A quick turn onto County Road 1000N revealed the black cloud was pouring from a nearby home. He dialed 911 and laid on the horn to wake the people inside.

Firefighters who rushed to the home in the 6000 block of County Road 1000N in Wilkinson around 5:30 a.m. Wednesday are crediting Sheets with helping the family inside escape as flames engulfed the structure.

A few more minutes and the situation could have been a lot worse, officials said.

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“I didn’t do anything special,” Sheets said. “I was just helping somebody out.”

Investigators believe the fire started in a downstairs utility room following an electrical issue with the furnace, firefighters said.

The fire spread through the home quickly, engulfing much of the structure, Wilkinson Fire Chief Matt Decker said. Flames could be seen shooting through the roof of the home when crews arrived.

The house is considered a total loss, but the three people inside were able to escape safely.

Officials said they believe the smoke detectors in the home malfunctioned. Some sounded only after flames had claimed most of the home; others did not go off at all, Wilkinson firefighter John Collins said.

Sheets was likely the one who woke family members, helping them escape in time, Collins said.

“They were very lucky,” he said.

Robin Mourey, who rents the home and lives there with her children, was at the house Wednesday morning to sort through the debris left behind but did not wish to comment about what happened.

Officials did not release the name of the caller who helped save the family.

David Bodkin lives nearby and also called 911 when he saw the flames coming through the roof of the home. He helped move cars and other items away from the home and waited with the family while fire crews tried to save the house.

Bodkin said he’s thankful at least some of the smoke detectors were working and that the family acted quickly to get out in time.

It took members of the Wilkinson Volunteer Fire Department two hours to douse the blaze.

They were assisted at the scene by fire crews from Shirley, Charlottesville and Green Township, Decker said, along with Pendleton and Adams Township fire departments from Madison County.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.