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Firefighters honor Forest Grove teen for heroism

BRAVERY - Kayla Varde, who rushed into a burning home March 6, will also get kudos from school board, city council

Forest Grove High School freshman Kayla Varde has felt a bit overwhelmed lately.

Since the teenager dashed up to a burning home in Old Town March 6 and warned its occupants of danger, she's heard from Fox News Channel and KGW News in Portland.

The Forest Grove School Board plans to recognize her at its March 31 meeting, and the City Council will follow suit at its April 14 meeting.

Kayla's been surprised by all the ruckus.

'I just thought I was doing what I should have done,' the dark haired 14-year-old said of her good deed.

Last Friday, it was her high school's chance to pour on the admiration. Forest Grove Fire Inspector Dave Nemeyer showed up at a morning assembly in the FGHS gym to honor Kayla, who charged into a burning house on 12th Avenue and Birch Street early this month and shouted a warning to its occupant, Cheri Bakhus.

In the process, Kayla also helped save another life: Bakhus's infant child was sleeping upstairs as the smoke began to billow.

Bakhus initially left the house with Kayla, according to firehouse records. Remembering her daughter was napping on the second floor, she ran back inside with Kayla and Kayla's father, James Varde, in tow.

All four made it safely outside before calling 9-1-1 from a neighbor's house.

'Pretty heroic thing'

Nemeyer called the act a 'selfless and brave' thing for Kayla to do.

'We're here today to recognize a pretty heroic thing one of your classmates did a couple of weeks ago,' Nemeyer told the assembled crowd of students.

He was accompanied by firefighters Mike Lanter, Matt Rawls, Brooke Brown, Will Murphy and Karen Nordstrom, members of Forest Grove Fire and Rescue who responded to the March 6 blaze. But before Kayla took center stage, they all were called away on another alarm.

Kayla's peers gave her a standing ovation after Nemeyer sang her praises.

'This is a pretty outstanding young lady here,' he said. 'We'd like to thank Kayla for the positive influence she's had on our community.

'There are two individuals who are safe today because of Kayla's quick actions.'

Saw the danger

While returning home from school that fateful afternoon, Nemeyer said, Kayla asked her dad to stop the car.

'She saw the danger, but instead of just going by, she ran up to the house and thumped on the door,' said Nemeyer.

He emphasized that because of the physical risk involved, he couldn't recommend a similar course of action to other citizens.

'But on the flip side, there are so many people who drive by (a fire in progress) and don't stop at all,' Nemeyer said.

For her part, Kayla insists it was 'the right thing to do' - and she'd probably do it again.

She visited with Cheri Bakhus the day after the fire but hasn't spoken with her since. The house sustained major damage after the fire, which started in the chimney and spread to the top floor.

'She just said, 'thank you so much,'' Kayla related. 'They're not living there now,' she added.

Despite her sudden initiation into rescue work, Kayla hasn't been bitten by the firefighting bug.

She plans to go work in social services or to become a lawyer once she graduates from high school.