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Woodbury girl, 6, awarded for bravery during apartment fire

Woodbury Fire Chief Todd Johnson presents Bella Montantes with an award for bravery on Tuesday, Dec. 3, at the Woodbury Public Safety Building. (Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker)1 / 2
Woodbury Fire Chief Todd Johnson sorts through a goodie bag with Bella Montantes, one of two items she was presented with Tuesday during an award ceremony for her bravery during a Woodbury apartment fire in October. Joining Bella is her 3-year-old sister, Sophia. (Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker)2 / 2

The fire had been burning for hours already.

A discarded cigarette had ignited a balcony at Woodland Pointe apartments on Oct. 28 and flames were beginning to roar.

But just as the fire was beginning its most destructive tear along the exterior of the eight-unit building, “something really special happened that night,” said Woodbury Fire Chief Todd Johnson.

Six-year-old Bella Montantes awakened at about 1 a.m. inside one of the apartments after hearing a sound – likely from the blaze burning just outside her bedroom.

“She noticed that something wasn’t quite right,” Johnson said.

So the girl ran and woke up her mom.

Her mother, Michelle Montantes, soon realized the building’s exterior was ablaze. Bella’s warning provided enough time for Michelle to rush her two daughters out of the building, call 911 and pound on neighbors’ doors to alert them to the fire.

Bella was honored for her actions Tuesday, Dec. 3, during a brief ceremony at the Woodbury Public Safety Building, where she was presented with a Certificate of Bravery.

“We just want you to know how much we appreciated what you did,” Johnson told Bella during the ceremony.

John Wallgren, a fire department commander, remembers the night well. He could see flames shooting 40 feet above the three-story building from about a mile away as he responded to the call.

No alarms went off inside the building because it had not yet breached the interior. Three units would eventually be destroyed, but not before all the tenants were safely evacuated.

“It could have been a catastrophe had we not gotten there when we did,” Wallgren said.

Michelle, who has since moved her family to a new apartment – one that doesn’t allow smoking, she noted – said Bella’s early warning likely prevented tragedy.

“I’m very proud of her,” she said. “I just keep thinking if she didn’t wake me up – what if?” 

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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