Tank is a well-trained, usually obedient white pit bull that can roll over and bark on command. But the one night he wasn’t so obedient likely saved the lives of his owner and a family.
One night a week ago, Tank was agitated. He wouldn’t go to sleep. Finally, his restlessness roused owner Mike Vest, a former Covina resident.
“He didn’t want to go to bed with me,” said Vest. “He wouldn’t settle down. I didn’t realize he was tripped out.”
At about 1:15 a.m. last Monday, Tank’s odd behavior got Vest out of bed just as smoke began billowing from a ceiling vent of his home in a remote part of Apple Valley. David Weber, a friend of Vest’s since they met at Charter Oak High School, and his family were staying over that night.
Tank kept bothering them, David’s wife Lauri recalled.
“He wasn’t doing his normal routine. He was growling, acting funny. He kept coming and waking me up,” she said.
Tank apparently detected the smoldering fire several hours before flames broke out in the home’s attic, Vest and the Webers believe. They credit Tank for warning them in time to escape, although Vest lost everything but his truck in the fire.
Lauri and 10-year-old son Christopher were briefly hospitalized for smoke inhalation.
“All I saw was red and smoke,” said Christopher, who was slow to wake up when his parents rushed out of the house.
Another pit bull, Duchess, and a puppy named Tiger also survived the fire.
The house was at the end of Oldenberg Road in Apple Valley, in a desolate area abutting hills and a dry lake bed. Vest and a roommate – who wasn’t home Monday night – had rented it only a couple of months prior.
Firefighters told him a faulty chimney design likely caused the fire. It was built too close to wood beams that eventually dried out and heated up.
A longtime pit bull enthusiast, Vest found Tank as a puppy four years ago in a home where a much larger dog kept attacking Tank. He had hoped to start a pit bull rescue business at the Apple Valley house.
Now Vest is staying with a friend in Covina.
The Webers were already struggling to find a home before the fire; they’re now staying with David’s mother in Pomona.
“We’re staying from place to place, just couch surfing right now,” said David Weber, who works part-time at Trader Joe’s.
The Red Cross provided Vest and the Webers with some help after the fire, but they know the recovery process will be tough. They’re grateful, however, that Tank was there to help them survive.
“He’s a great dog, like a son,” said Vest.