Her husband usually lighted the wood-burning stove. But as the snow fell outside, so did the temperature inside Learae Mera's home.
Diego Mera was away, so Mrs. Mera, whose battle with multiple sclerosis has seriously weakened her left side, tried lighting a fire herself.
It was a mistake. If not for the quick thinking of her 4-year-old daughter, Marla, neither she nor her two children would be alive today, the Green Haven resident said.
The children, Marla and 2 1/2 -year-old Kyle, had already been put to bed Feb. 23 when Mrs. Mera placed three chemically treated logs, crumpled newspaper, some bits of plastic and half a can of lighter fluid into the stove and struck a match.
Instead of the cozy fire Mrs. Mera had anticipated, the stove billowed smoke into the living room. Lying on her back -- Mrs. Mera said she was too weak with multiple sclerosis to sit up -- she tried desperately to open the flue, but nothing she did helped.
"The last thing I remember is this large cloud of smoke coming toward me," Mrs. Mera said.
That's when, she said, Marla stepped to the fore. Bothered by the smoke, the young girl came out of her bedroom and found her mother slumped on the floor.
Racing out into the snow in her bare feet and pajamas, Marla knocked on neighbors' doors until Pat Campbell, their newest neighbor, answered. Marla then explained that her mother and younger brother were in trouble.
Ms. Campbell got Marla's mother and brother out, then summoned emergency personnel.
Mrs. Mera was taken to North Arundel General Hospital and later to Anne Arundel Medical Center, where she was treated for smoke inhalation and chemical burns in her throat. The children were fine.
"You have to know Marla to know how much of a miracle it is. She's very timid," Mrs. Mera said.
In fact, when asked what she did that night, Marla buried her face into her mother's side and whispered that she does not remember. Finally, when asked by Mrs. Mera if she was scared that night, Marla smiled and said yes.
"I kept thinking about what I could do to thank her for all she has done. I knew I couldn't do much," said Mrs. Mera, who contacted the newspaper with the story. "I owe her my life, her life and her little brother's life."
Both mother and daughter have learned valuable lessons. From now on Marla knows to dial 911 in case of emergency, Mrs. Mera said. And, for her part, "I'm not going near that thing [stove]" until the chimney is cleaned and "I get instructions on how to use it."