Toddler called hero after alerting family to stovetop fire

BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) – Heroic is not normally a word used to describe a four year old, but that is exactly what Bentley Hughes is being called now not just by his family but the Batesville Fire Department as well.

"He's my little hero because it could have been so different," said Jean Varnell, Bentley's great-grandmother.

Bentley has proven that no one is too young to learn about fire prevention. Last year when he was just three years old, some Batesville firefighters visited his preschool to teach the kids about what to do if they see flames. What he learned all those months ago came in handy last week, while his 80-year-old great-grandmother babysat him.

"He was eating lunch at the coffee table in the living room, and it shows right here into the kitchen," Varnell said. "I was looking down at him, and he had finished his lunch and I asked him what he wanted for dessert. He said, 'I want a chocolate chip cookie.'

"By saying that," she added, "he looked right into the kitchen, and he said, 'Fire! Fire!' I looked in here and the whole top of my stove was on fire."

Varnell said the fire apparently started when she left a plastic container from the microwave sitting on the stove, but she did not realize the burner was set on high.

"He was watching a cartoon, and I could have turned around to do something else or just turned away, turned my head a different direction and not gotten the cookie right here that second," she said. "It wouldn't have taken it a few seconds longer to have really been out of control."

Varnell threw a soaking wet cloth onto the stovetop before getting out of the house safely with Bentley. When the firefighters arrived, they told her that she did everything correctly. She said Bentley's parents came to the scene shortly thereafter and asked their four-year-old son how he knew to alert his great-grandmother to the fire.

"When his daddy came and asked him how did you know to holler 'fire,' he said that's what the fireman told us to say," she said.

Varnell claimed the firemen seemed taken aback to find out their lessons stuck with at least one student.

"[The firemen] said, 'We thought we were wasting our time,'" she said. "He said, 'We thought they weren't paying any attention.' [The kids] hear more than I guess you think they do."

While she's proud of her great-grandson, Varnell is also much more appreciative of all the local firefighters and police officers.

"These people that go to the schools and talk, they're definitely not wasting their time," she said. "I'm just real proud of our firemen, policemen and all these people that do these hard jobs. Sometimes they don't get enough appreciation, I don't think, but they just need to keep up the good work as far as I'm concerned."

Luckily, the fire caused only minor smoke damage to Varnell's home.

She said she asked Bentley if this incident would make him want to be a firefighter when he gets older. He simply told her no. He said he still wants to be a state trooper, just like his dad.

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