ALVORD, Texas — Earlier in January, an early morning fire quickly destroyed Nathan and Kayla Dahl's Texas home.
In the clothes they wore to bed, these two watched their house go up in flames from across the street as firefighters worked to save what they could.
If it wasn't for their 2-year-old son Brandon, these parents said they would not be alive today to tell the story.
"He saved our entire family," Kayla Dahl said. "I mean, he's our little mini hero."
That morning, Brandon woke up his mom, saying "Momma, hot! Momma, hot!" she said. Because of that handful of words, the parents had just enough time to grab their kids and get out of their burning house safely.
"We had seconds," Nathan Dahl said. "It's nothing short of a miracle."
The 2-year-old hero
Nathan and Kayla Dahl live in Alvord, Texas, which is about an hour northwest of Fort Worth. They have five children, including Brandon.
Around 4:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 15, a fire started in the Dahl's home, one that would eventually destroy the entire structure.
Structures fires aren't uncommon for Nathan Dahl since he's been a volunteer firefighter for the Alvord Fire Department for the past five to six years.
He said he has run practice drills with his kids on what to do if they need to get out of the house quickly and emphasized not to worry about grabbing anything on their way out.
"We had a plan," Nathan Dahl said. "We've had a plan. This is how everything's going to go."
But Nathan and Kayla Dahl would first need to know there was a fire happening before they could execute that plan with their kids. What made the Saturday of the fire a unique situation is the Dahl parents were both still recovering from COVID-19.
Both Nathan and Kayla Daul said they had lost their sense of smell and didn't smell any of the smoke building in their house at any point.
On top of that, their smoke alarms didn't go off until the fire had fully engulfed the house.
"We had brand new, less than a year old, smoke alarms in our house," Nathan Dahl said. "None of them went off."
The fire is believed to have started in the living room, where Brandon was sleeping at the time because Kayla Dahl said he was dealing with his own sickness. She wanted to be able to easily check on Brandon throughout the night.
But it was Brandon who somehow got through the flames and ended up checking on his parents. While everyone else in the house remained asleep and the smoke detectors silent, Kayla Dahl woke up hearing Brandon coughing and talking to her.
She said Brandon has woken her up before in the past because he's a bit too hot and simply wanted less layers on. It wasn't until she looked towards the bedroom door that she knew this was a different situation.
"I just saw the flames coming out of our of the living room and into our bedroom," Kayla Dahl said.
She then woke up her husband.
"She's screaming, 'Fire! Fire! Fire!'" Nathan Dahl said. "My initial thought was, 'OK, I'm going to get up and I'm going to get to work.'"
But Nathan Dahl, only in his pajama pants, wasn't in his firefighter gear and quickly changed his mindset to get his family out of the house once he saw the size of the now six-foot-tall flames.
"I was like, 'Oh my God,'" Nathan Dahl said. "My heart just dropped. In my head, I already knew this house was gone. We had to get out."
Already having a plan in place, the Dahl parents were able to get out of the house with their five kids in less than a minute.
Nathan Dahl said if Brandon had woken them up any later than he did or they moved a bit slower, things could have been much worse.
"About maybe a minute after we got out of the house, our front door had flames coming out of it," Nathan Dahl said. "Everything was in flames."
The two parents checked their five kids for burns or injuries. Other than some hairs slightly singed on Brandon's head, all of their kids were fine. None of the family members sustained any burns or smoke inhalation.
Firefighters from the scene believe the fire likely started from the gas heater in the living room, according to the Alvord Fire Department.
Firefighters quick work
Once out of the house along with his family, Nathan Dahl went back to a part of the house outside to turn off the gas. He said this would hopefully keep any explosions from happening once firefighters arrived to help.
Nathan Dahl then watched from across the street on his neighbor's porch while Kayla Dahl was nearby on the phone. With 30-40 mph winds that morning in Alvord and debris hitting Nathan Dahl while they waited for help, he said he knew firefighters needed to get there soon.
"It's blowing up on their wooden porch," he said. "I literally went to Kayla, who is on the phone with 911, and I told them, 'Look. We're about to have more than one structure fire.'"
Within minutes of the family getting out, firefighters from nine different fire departments and one EMS department were on the scene. These included the Alvord, Decatur, Bowie, Bridgeport, Crafton, Forestburg, Greenwood/Slidell, Lake Bridgeport and Sunset Fire Departments along with Wise County EMS.
While the firefighters weren't able to salvage much of the Dahl home, they kept it from spreading to other nearby structures.
"I'm really, really thankful for those other departments that came to not only our aid but our neighbors' aids," Nathan Dahl said.
Left with nothing
The Dahl family lost everything that wasn't on their bodies when they ran out of their house. During the first week after the fire, the Dahl family stayed nearby at Kayla Dahl's grandparents' house. Her SUV was destroyed in the fire while Nathan Dahl's truck took on so much damage that he said it eventually gave out.
"You hear people say, 'I lost everything,'" Kayla Dahl said. "You don't realize the weight of that until it happens to you."
Kayla Dahl said Brandon had trouble falling asleep those first couple of nights after the fire because he was scared to. She said he stayed up for almost 48 hours straight before eventually getting some rest.
Kayla Dahl herself has been struggling herself and worrying about her family and her grandparents as well.
"Every hour or so, in the house that we're staying in, I'm making sure everything's OK," she said. "I'm checking on the kids. Checking on [Nathan Dahl]. Making sure everybody's OK."
Support from a giving community
So now car-less and homeless, these two parents started the process of piecing their lives back together. But what they say has caught them off guard is the amount of support that quickly started pouring in.
Hours after the fire that Saturday, one of Kayla Dahl's best friends started a GoFundMe page for them, one that has already surpassed the $5,000 goal.
"We've had an extremely, extremely blessed outpour of love and support," Kayla Dahl said.
Since that point, Kayla Dahl said the biggest help her family has received is clothes. The Dahl family has also received toys and books for the kids as well as a little bit of furniture for their next home. All of the kids will eventually be able to sleep on donated beds.
Another family friend worked with their church to organize and start a meal train for the Dahls.
"You don't sit there and expect something like that," Kaya Dahl said. "It has been 100% completely unexpected. We are very, very, very grateful for everybody and everything."
The Alvord Fire Department is working to help organize a dinner fundraiser Tuesday night to help raise money for the Dahls, along with the Alvord Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, Alvord National Honor Society and Alvord Student Council.
The Dahls are currently renting a house nearby, hoping to move in sometime in the next couple of weeks. While there is still plenty to buy and build, Nathan and Kayla Dahl won't have to worry about a washer and dryer since William and Kortnie Allen donated them.
"Nathan is one heck of a guy," William Allen said.
William Allen is the Director of Public Works for the City of Newark, which is about 30 minutes southeast of Alvord.
When Nathan Dahl isn't volunteering as a firefighter, he's working his day-to-day job for Allen.
Since the fire happened, Allen said Nathan Dahl has only missed a couple of days of work because he told Allen work is his "peace" and is helping him get back to his normal life.
"He'll work all night fighting somebody else's fire," Allen said. "Then he'll turn around and come to work the next morning and work 8-10 hours. Digging holes, fixing water leaks, whatever we need. And then turn around and do the same thing the next day. All while being a dad and a husband."
Allen said Nathan Dahl's hardworking mentality and willingness to do whatever is needed made it an easy decision to help out his family with these two appliances.
"That says a lot in his character just in itself," Allen said. "They are such good people."
A different type of support
While Nathan and Kayla Dahl are thankful for the many donations coming and continuing to come their way, they said they've also been happy to hear about all the people praying for them.
"I will see people on Facebook, who I don't even know, saying that they are praying for us," Kayla Dahl said. "We are really blessed."
Both these parents said they believe there was a higher power looking over them that Saturday morning.
"I'm beyond blessed by God for us to still be here," Nathan Dahl said. "He saved our family. No shadow of a doubt in my opinion."
Kayla Dahl said she feels the same way.
"Brandon definitely had a guardian angel help him get out of that living room," she said. "It's honestly nothing short of a miracle. An absolute miracle."
To this day, Kayla Dahl said it is still hard to believe her 2-year-old son, Brandon, was able to walk to their bedroom with a fire starting around him and get her attention in time to save them.
"We're honestly just chalking it up to the fact that God said, 'I'm not done with y'all,'" she said. "'Y'all have more time right here with everybody, so I'm not finished with you all. We're going to get y'all out.'"
While the Dahls have made progress getting back on their feet, there is still a long way to go. Kayla Dahl said they aren't sure exactly what their biggest needs are at the moment. She said what will always be helpful are gift cards for food, cleaning supplies and prayers.
"We didn't expect even half of the type of support we've received," Kayla Dahl said. "We're just so thankful."
Kayla Dahl said she and her family hope to one day rebuild where their destroyed home lies. Even though some memorable items or gone and others will never be able to be replaced, Kayla Dahl said she is just thankful to be alive and with her family.
"For me, I'll definitely have a different... I definitely have a different outlook on life now," Kayla Dahl. "It's made me appreciate and better understand what matters most."