Tuesday seemed like a typical morning for Mike Coolidge.

He was heading south on Nowthen Boulevard to his job in Anoka, eating toast.

But then smoke blew across the road. And as he passed the Nowthen farmhouse where the woman was often outside with her horse, in the dim, early morning light, he saw a glow that filled the front window. Fire.

"I didn't even have time to think," Coolidge recalled Tuesday afternoon. "I just did it."

He pulled into the driveway by the back entrance and pounded on the door, before breaking a window.

Smoke billowed out of the broken pane and around the door's edges. Coolidge opened the door.

Smoke darkened the entryway, but when he looked down, he could see a pair of feet in white socks on the floor, a short distance from where he stood.

"I think she was trying to get out and smoke overcame her," he said. "I basically dropped down to my hands and knees and pulled her out the door."

The woman, Diann Evans, 63, was in critical condition Tuesday at Hennepin County Medical Center. She suffered smoke inhalation and severe burns to her upper body. There was no one else in the house.

Coolidge, 54, spent several hours Tuesday at Mercy Hospital suffering from smoke inhalation, and so doctors could monitor his heart in the aftermath of the fire. As of Tuesday evening, he was still hoping to sleep in his own bed.

Ramsey Fire Chief Dean Kapler said his department received a call at 6:25 a.m. to respond to a house fire on the 19500 block of Nowthen Boulevard. When firefighters arrived, they found the lower story of the house engulfed in flames.

Evans was flown to Minneapolis.

It "absolutely" was the kind of fire that could kill, Kapler said. Even so, he doesn't recommend that civilians attempt such rescues.

It's a "calculated risk" he said. "People can be overcome by the gases produced by a fire so fast that it could very well complicate the issue and become a second victim.

"I'm certainly not downplaying the efforts of Mr. Coolidge. I want to be clear that there's just any number of hazards in something like this."

Though the cause of the fire is not known, fire investigators have determined that it started in the first-floor living room.

Coolidge said he was relieved that Evans had survived the fire. She had been was unconscious when he pulled her out, but soon after was attempting to sit and speak, though she clearly was suffering from her injuries.

He reflected again on the rescue, and Evans' white socks.

"They probably helped me a lot," he said, "because I wasn't really looking for anything right there by the door. It was just lucky she was there."

Before Tuesday, he said, he didn't even know Evans well enough to say hello at the grocery store. But he wished her well.

"I just hope she gets better," he said. "I want to see her out there playing with her horse."

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409