Ayla, 7, and Aries Ypma, 9, cuddle with their blind grandfather, Arko, and his service dog, Trooper, Friday at London Fire Station No. 1 at 400 Horton St. Trooper alerted a neighbour to a fire in Arko Ypma’s apartment last month. (MORRIS LAMONT, The London Free Press)

Londoner Arko Ypma was vacuuming his Simcoe Street apartment a few days after Christmas when he smelled smoke.

The 71-year-old blind man thought the vacuum was over­heating and brought it to the balcony to cool off.

But the vacuum was on fire and Ypma was unknowingly dropping burning plastic across the floor and over furniture as he carried it.

It wasn’t until the smoke alarm sounded that Ypma realized his third-floor unit was on fire.

“Everything just exploded into a massive ball of flame,” said Ypma, who opened his door to shout for help.

His service dog, an eight-year-old German shepherd named Trooper, rushed past him and used its tail to knock at a neighbour’s door.

Neighbour Pam Claveau sprung into action after seeing Trooper, helping the blind man escape his smoke-filled apartment and shutting the door after they safely made it out.

“It was very terrifying,” said Claveau, who cares for Trooper when its master is away.

Ypma suffered burns to his hands, while Trooper was treated for smoke inhalation, but the outcome could have been much worse, fire officials said Friday.

Firefighters held a news conference to share Ypma’s story about escaping the Dec. 28 blaze to educate the public about fire safety.

Deputy Chief Brian McLaughlin applauded Claveau for closing the door to Ypma’s apartment, saying the quick-thinking move contained the fire and made it easier for responding firefighters to battle.

McLaughlin also encouraged everyone to plan and practise an emergency escape plan.

The blaze caused $60,000 damage, destroying many of Ypma’s specialized items for the blind.

Flanked by his daughter, Suzanne Ypma-Williams, and two granddaughters at the Horton Street fire hall, Ypma urged the public to get contents insurance, something he didn’t have.

“Never say never, because who would ever think a vacuum cleaner would catch fire?” he said.

Ypma soon is returning to a temporary unit at the Simcoe Street building until restoration work on his apartment is completed in the spring.

dcarruthers@postmedia.com

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Source: Close call spurs fire safety reminder | The London Free Press