As a fire raged in her Kenner home, Claudia Arceneaux — who is 76 and blind — wanted to find her shoes before fleeing outside.
But her 5-year-old granddaughter, Cloé Woods, refused to let her, saying, “Don’t worry about the shoes. We’ve got to get out.”
The preschooler woke her grandmother after hearing the home’s smoke detector blare Wednesday morning, then instructed her “Maw Maw” to hold her shoulders while the girl led her to safety. Though their home was badly damaged in the blaze, no one was harmed, prompting countless people to hail the little girl as a hero.
Cloé — a prekindergarten student at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School — tried to explain her thinking Friday during a meeting on campus with her mother and a reporter. She said she had remembered what she learned last fall during a school trip to a fire station on Rev. Richard Wilson Drive a few blocks away: The only thing that matters if your house is on fire is getting outside.
Never was that more vital than Wednesday morning.
“This was a little girl who paid attention and did what she was taught to do,” Kenner Fire Chief John Hellmers said. “Her and her grandma could’ve both been trapped in that house ... and we could be talking about a much different story.”
Cloé and her grandmother were both sleeping while the girl’s mother, Shone Arceneaux, left to drop off Cloé’s 14-year-old brother at the Power Boulevard grocery store where his school carpool meets each day at 7 a.m.
Before Shone Arceneaux, 39, could return to the family’s home in the 700 block of Gerry Drive, a fire started on the stove for reasons Hellmers said remain under investigation. Hellmers speculated the burner might have been accidentally bumped or not turned off, while Shone Arceneaux believed it could have been a faulty regulator.
Nonetheless, the blaze set off a smoke detector that Cloé said sounded like “a horn” and roused her. The little girl, who wasn’t due at school until after 8, then heard the family dog Koco barking frantically in the kitchen, and she immediately seized control of the situation.
She jumped out of bed and ran to wake her grandmother, who lost her eyesight after suffering a stroke a couple of years ago, Shone Arceneaux said.
Cloé told her grandmother they needed to hurry out of the house, but Claudia Arceneaux mentioned searching for her shoes. Cloé had none of it, pleading with her grandmother, “Put your hands on my shoulders, and let’s go.”
Claudia Arceneaux listened. They passed Koco as they walked out, and the dog — as she often does — fell in behind them.
Cloé then began knocking on neighbors’ doors, hoping one of them could give her a bucket of water to put the fire out.
Shone Arceneaux soon arrived and saw the surreal scene. Her daughter, barefoot mother and dog were in the street. Nearby, smoke poured out of their house. Shone Arceneaux called 911, helped everyone into the car and backed up down the street.
Neighbors soon realized what was going on. They brought bottles of water and blankets to the victims as firefighters doused the blaze.
Before it was out, Shone Arceneaux said, the fire ruined the kitchen and living room, and smoke damaged the rest of the house.
The family lost their possessions and have been staying with relatives and in hotel rooms, she said. But she is grateful to be dealing with inconveniences instead of a deadly tragedy.
“I started crying in the car today because I thought if my mom and daughter were in there (as the fire grew) ... that would’ve tore me alive,” Shone Arceneaux said. “But Cloé used her best judgment — she didn’t think about herself. She got up, went into the next room and got her grandmother.”
With that, Cloé hopped off her mother’s lap. She asked permission to return to her classroom, where it was afternoon nap time.