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Police and fire

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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Firefighters from Station 1 work to entinguish the house fire on DeWald Street.

5 rescued as home burns

Samaritans enable escape before firefighters arrive

Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Alfredo Ortega was one of the good Samaritans who helped rescue a family from a burning house Friday morning at 125 W. DeWald St.

– Alfredo Ortega saw smoke coming from 125 W. DeWald St., and he didn’t hesitate.

“You don’t think,” he said. “You just run over and do what you have to do.”

Ortega, a maintenance man for Kaufmann Property Management, had just gotten to work Friday morning when he dropped what he was doing and ran toward the burning house, just west of South Calhoun Street.

Two men, two women, a toddler and a dog were gathered on a back roof as smoke poured out of the second floor.

Stepping up onto part of the house, Ortega extended his arms and took the young boy from his mother’s hands. After that, the dog was brought to the ground.

“The ladies were pretty scared,” said Ortega, 47. “At first I told them, ‘Jump!’ ”

But instead of leaping from the roof that looked to be at least 10 feet high, a ladder was leaned against the house and the four adults came down safely.

A police officer and a neighborhood code enforcement officer played a role in the rescue, along with three of Ortega’s co-workers. One of those co-workers, 24-year-old Zach Townsend, said he fetched the ladder from a nearby shed.

“Within the 30 seconds it took to get everybody down, it turned into a blaze,” he said.

Fire crews arrived at 8:38 a.m. just in time to see the last adult descending the ladder. At that point, heavy flames were consuming the second story, the fire department said.

The fire was under control after about 25 minutes. It did heavy damage to the house and charred the exterior of a neighboring home, causing minor damage. The American Red Cross was called to help the victims, the fire department said.

Fire officials said the blaze started on the second floor of the house. The cause is still under investigation.

No one in the house was injured, but some of the rescuers, including Ortega, suffered minor burns, possibly from hot debris that fell from the roof.

Reflecting on his deed, Ortega saw it as one that might be repaid in the future.

“I hope that somebody will do the same thing for me sometime,” he said.