Alert neighbor saves Finley family from burning home

Alert neighbor saves Finley family from burning home

FINLEY, Wash. — A mother and her three children are recovering at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle after narrowly escaping their burning mobile home Wednesday morning.

Fire officials said the family is lucky to be alive because the house didn't have smoke detectors.

Shortly after 1 a.m. Jose Fernandez saw smoke billowing from his neighbor's house and lept into action, pounding on windows, doors and walls to wake the family, before pulling some of them to safety,

"I start banging on their house, no one answered, no one came out the front, so I go through the back door. As I'm running through the back door, the youngest little girl and the youngest little boy run out of the house."

Vitalina Birrueta-Morena was still in the burning home, and so was her oldest son, Mario.

Fernandez found the boy carried him, but said the smoke was too thick and he struggled to find the boy's mother,

"I believe [she] was still looking for her kids while they were outside already, and safe."

Fernandez said he thinks Vitalina must have fainted because he found her on the kitchen floor before dragging her to safety as well.

The woman was only a few feet from the back porch and fresh air.

Tracy Baker with Benton County Fire District 1 said stories like this are still too common in an age of smoke detectors,

"Most people are found right outside doors or windows trying to escape. They can't find it, but they're overcome by the smoke and they pass out."

She said a smoke detector would've gotten the family up and out of danger long before Fernandez saw the smoke,

"It's so important for the community to know that they need to have these in their homes. It's a game changer."

Fernandez said he's grateful he was in the right place at the right time,

"If they hadn't had anyone knock on the door …if they wouldn't have heard me… I don't want to think about what could have happened to them."

Vitalia, and oldest son Mario, are at Harborview Medical Center's Intensive Care Unit, listed as serious. The two younger children were treated and released from Trios by Wednesday afternoon.

Officials said the blaze was started by an unattended candle that tipped over and smoldered before taking off.

If you need assistance with your smoke detector, there are a few different programs Tri-Cities residents can qualify for.

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