ST. GEORGE, Utah — The dust is settling and small puffs of smoke continue to rise from homes brought to the ground in an inferno Friday along Diagonal Street in St. George.
The total damage includes four homes (one containing 4 separate apartments), a large shop behind one of the homes, several outhouses, motorcycles, and travel trailers -- along with the belongings inside them.
Two of the four homes sustained irreversible damage, and both of those homes belonged to the same family.
“We owned all of this, and as we got older we turned it over to our daughter,” Donna Leavitt told FOX 13 as she saw the two homes' wreckage for the first time.
She had owned a beautiful two-story adobe house for many years with many priceless antiques, including a stand-up grand piano that her family brought across the plains to Utah.
As they got older, Leavitt and her husband were having trouble going up and down the stairs, so they bought the home next door too and gave their original home to their daughter's family.
The majority of the outhouses, shop, vehicles and items lost in the fire were theirs.
“Feeling not so good… But it's life, it's what happens when you’re alive, and we are alive,” Leavitt said with a slight chuckle, trying to stay positive about the situation. “As long as you don’t lose your life, your family… and your pets, they were all saved.”
Three dogs were in their home at the time and were in need of rescue when police arrived.
Pounding on the door, Officer Gage Gardiner with the St. George Police Department was trying to see if anyone was home. That’s when he looked in the window.
“I could see through the window that there were multiple dogs in the home," he said.
So Gardiner turned around and grabbed Officer Cameron McCullough and Lt. David Williams to help.
The three of them kicked the door in to go in and rescue the three small dogs inside.
They immediately saw two of the three dogs.
"One was pretty willing to go with us; the other was not,” McCullough said.
Williams added: “I grabbed the other dog that was a lot friendlier and ran out with that.”
The blaze was getting hotter, so time was limited as the remaining two officers battled to find the animals.
“The area that the dogs were in was the most on fire," Gardiner reflected. "So you could see the fire coming up the window and up the wall."
All three said that in the moment, they were relying on instinct and didn’t think about the danger. But their body camera footage (seen below) shows how real and time-sensitive the situation was.
After rescuing two of the three dogs, firefighters went in to the home to find the third and knock down the fire.
"There was a shower curtain was on fire," Chief Robert Stoker of the St. George Fire Department described. "When they were extinguishing that, they heard a dog whimper in the bathtub.”
The dog was being protected by water in the tub and was able to be rescued by first responders.
With no loss of life and hugs all around, the Leavitt family's priority turns to whats next.
“We've got to find a place to live," Leavitt said. "Friends across the street are letting us be over there for a while.”
Despite the grim outlook, she says her family is going to move forward in the only way they know how.
“Bad things happen to good people,” she said. “No need being upset, tired and cranky… That’s just a part of life.”
Stoker says the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, but the department has received several witness statements of the initial parts of the fire that they are piecing together.
He also says the investigation will most likely go into next week before an exact cause is determined.