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A Florence man serving in the U.S. Navy is credited with helping to extinguish an apartment fire recently in Pearl City, Hawaii.

Chris Hower, who is a Petty Officer 3rd Class aboard the USS Lake Erie at Pearl Harbor, was driving his pickup truck home from a friend's house on the evening of Dec. 19 when he saw smoke spewing from a third-floor window of an apartment building.

"The first thing that came to mind was, 'I hope there is no one in there,' " said Hower, 19, in a recent e-mail interview with the Missoulian. "My first reaction was to start screaming to get their attention."

He called 9-1-1 on his cell phone and then tried to alert the residents. He got no answer at the apartment so he joined a man later identified as Troy Carriaga and scaled the outside of the complex by climbing through apartment balconies.

"I didn't think about myself," said Hower. "I was just worried if anyone was inside."

Hower made his way to the third floor and found no one inside. He then began to put out the blaze with fire extinguishers being passed to him by Carriaga from the floor below.

"Half the apartment was on fire," Hower said. "I used five CO2 extinguishers before we finally got a hose" from apartment residents.

By then Carriaga had joined him on the third floor. The two men moved aside furniture and within five minutes had the fire controlled and hosed down the remainder of the room. Two nearby residents also entered the apartment from the main floor and helped to spray things down until the fire department arrived.

Firefighters sent Hower to a local hospital for treatment of minor smoke inhalation. He was released later that evening.

"They just wanted to make sure I was all right," he said.

Fire officials, who estimated damage to the apartment building at $100,000, were appreciative of the assistance but also concerned about the intervention.

"They did a great job in stopping the fire," said Fire Capt. Kenison Tejada in a television interview, "but I want all of them to be safe for their families."

Hower, who has 2 1/2 years remaining on his enlistment, attended Florence-Carlton High School before enrolling in the Trapper Creek Job Corps where he worked on the camp crew in the Bitterroot National Forest in 2001.

"A house fire can be contained a lot easier than a wildfire," he said, "but it did pose its own challenges."

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