A full moon was still shining above Highland Road on the morning of Dec. 12 as Lokei Parker headed to Lee High in Baton Rouge to start her final exams. She’d stayed up late studying, so late she missed her bus.
As they wound down Highland, her grandmother Gayle Norris said the moon looked weirdly hazy. Parker quickly figured out why: a house was on fire.
The 17-year-old commanded her grandmother to stop the car so she could help. That instant decision has since earned her praise.
“Every minute counts,” said Karen Khonsari. “I just think it was commendable.”
Khonsari lives next door to the house that was on fire. She was getting ready for work but had yet to look out her window at her neighbor's house.
No one else appeared to have noticed either. Besides Parker and her grandmother, no other cars had stopped, or, as it turned out, even reported the fire.
“There were plenty of cars. It kind of made me upset,” Parker said. “If you don’t want to stop or you have to go to work, just call it in. You don’t know if someone’s life is in danger.”
Parker immediately called 911. It was 6:22 a.m. At that point, a small section of the roof was on fire. Firefighters arrived five minutes later.
“By the time the (Baton Rouge) Fire Department came, almost the whole roof was on fire,” she said. “It spread pretty quick.”
During that brief interval, Parker crossed the road and approached the 6936 Highland Road house. Her instinct was to run inside, see if anyone was inside, try to save them. But Norris implored her not to, saying she had no idea what awaited inside.
“You can’t just go barreling in there,” Norris recalled saying.
While Parker was conflicted, a couple of other cars stopped and a man — she said she doesn’t know his identity — got out, walked up to the door and knocked. Parker said the front door then opened. The man changed his mind, closing the door, worried the added oxygen would accelerate the fire.
Authorities say one person is in critical condition after a home on Highland Road caught fire Thursday morning.
Firefighters arrived soon after and took over. They eventually doused the blaze, but the home, valued at $1.5 million, was a total loss. About two hours after arriving, they located a man, the house’s lone resident, still inside, but covered in debris. Fire officials said Thursday afternoon the resident is still alive, still badly injured, but showing signs of improvement.
Parker still wonders whether she made the right call, whether she could have done more to speed that man’s rescue.
Khonsari, however, is certain. She credits Parker with saving her family’s house.
“She’s definitely a hero in our eyes,” Khonsari said.
Not long after Parker called 911, Khonsari was drinking her coffee. Then she noticed something strange.
“The trees in the back, they were this orange color,” she recalled. “I thought the sun was coming up, but then there was a flicker.”
Looking out another window, she saw a horror show playing out next door.
“You could feel the heat of the flames in the middle of my living room,” she said. “The fire was so intense. I’ve never experienced anything like that.”
A mad scramble ensued as she, her husband and two children raced to evacuate. Outside, Khonsari found Parker and she learned what the 17-year-old had done. Khonsari was so moved, later that day she emailed Lee High Principal Rob Howle and East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Warren Drake: “Her quick response in calling for help potentially saved our home.”
Mark Miles, a spokesman with the Baton Rouge Fire Department, who was at the fire, downplayed the likelihood of that happening. He said the fire likely had been burning for awhile already, flames were shooting straight up in the air, and Khonsari’s home was a distance away.
Khonsari, however, said perhaps 30 feet separate the two homes and there are trees in between that could have caught fire, especially if more time had elapsed.
“This could have been significantly worse,” she said.
Parker and her grandmother said her instinct to help has been sharpened by her three years of participation in Lee High’s Army JROTC program. Among other things, she's learned ways to stay calm during a crisis.
Her JROTC commander, Col. William Laigaie, said Parker is a selfless individual and one of his best cadets.
“It comes as no surprise to me that she did these actions and probably would have done more if the situation called for it,” Laigaie said.