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Darryl Steen nuzzles his one-year-old pit bull Diamond, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010 at the Castro Valley, Calif. veterinarian where she's been convalescing since a fire destroyed Steen's Hayward, Calif. apartment in October. "She saved our whole family, " said Steen, who credits the dog for awakening him in time to save his two daughters from an early morning electrical fire that completely consumed their home. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)

CASTRO VALLEY -- More than a month after a devastating fire destroyed his family's apartment, Darryl Steen finally was reunited Wednesday with the pit bull responsible for saving his life and the lives of his two daughters.

"I owe her everything," said Steen, as he played with Diamond, the gray and white 1-year-old canine at the Eden Pet Hospital. "She's a heck of a dog -- a heck of a dog."

Steen can vividly recall the details of the last time he saw Diamond. That was about 1:30 a.m. Oct. 24, when dog began barking.

"She almost never barks, so I knew something was wrong," said the 40-year-old Hayward resident.

There was.

Steen's apartment was on fire, and he and his two daughters were in danger.

"I woke up when I heard her barking and could smell something, but I wasn't sure what," Steen remembered. "I opened my bedroom door and then I knew what it was."

Steen saw his living room ablaze as fire raged through his apartment near Mission Boulevard.

Steen grabbed his 8-year-old daughter, Darahne, and dropped her out of a second-story window to safety. His 16-year-old daughter, Sierra, wasn't as lucky. She suffered burns and extensive smoke inhalation. She was released from the hospital the day before Thanksgiving.

Steen himself suffered burns on 30 percent of his body -- including his arms, back and feet -- and spent weeks in the hospital.

It was there he found out Diamond had survived.

"I didn't think she had got out, and I didn't ask because I didn't want to know," Steen said.

As it turned out, Hayward animal services employees took Diamond to the Bay Area Veterinary Specialist and Emergency Hospital in San Leandro where she spent the next few days receiving around-the-clock care for severe smoke inhalation and second- and third-degree burns.

Diamond's breathing eventually improved, and she was removed from the oxygen chamber and transferred to another pet hospital to continue receiving care for her burns.

"She is a wonderful dog, extremely sweet," said Jennie Comstock, the city of Hayward's animal services manager.

However, Diamond's care did not come cheap.

Steen now faces a veterinary bill of nearly $5,500 -- on top of having to find a place for the family to live and rebuild their lives.

Steen said he's not sure what he's going to do, but he knows Diamond will continue to be a part of the family.

"My youngest daughter just said the other day, once we get Diamond back, we'll be a family again," recalled Steen, petting the pooch.

Steen's time with Diamond on Wednesday was just a brief visit, as the dog will be cared for by an employee at the hospital for about another two weeks, until Steen can settle into a new place.

"I'm hoping we will all be together for Christmas," Steen added.

Comstock said anyone wanting to help pay Diamond's medical bill, may send a donation to the Hayward Animal Shelter at 16 Barnes Court, Hayward, CA 94544. She asks that donations be sent in Diamond's name, and said they are tax deductible.

"Mr. Steen has a lot of things going on in his life right now," Comstock said. "He has to rebuild his entire life.

"Diamond is a hero and anything anybody could do would be appreciated," she added.

An account for donations to the Steen family also has been set up through Bank of America, account number 0892576522. Donations may be made at any Bank of America branch.

Contact Chris Metinko at 510-293-2479.