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'They were amazing, fearless'

November 26, 2005|By By Mark R. Madler

Cigarette ashes spark fire during which neighbors, police officers work together to rescue elderly resident from inside burning home.FOR THE RECORD

In a photo on the front page Wednesday, accompanying the story titled "They were amazing, fearless," Burbank Police Officer Scott Moody was misidentified as Officer Angelo Dahlia.

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MAGNOLIA PARK -- Neighbors and police officers joined forces early Tuesday morning to rescue a 91-year-old woman from a house fire that shot flames 30 feet in the air.

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May Fox was listed in critical condition due to smoke inhalation Tuesday at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center.

Neighbors and fire officials described a hectic scene inside and out of Fox's home in the 400 block of Griffith Park Drive as police officers entered through the front door but retreated due to heavy smoke and fire. Fox would eventually be carried out through a window by Burbank Police Sgt. Jay Hawver and Officer Jennifer Downs.

"Whoever that officer was they were amazing, fearless," neighbor Erik Presant said. "He had no idea what he was getting into."

The fire began just before 1 a.m., shooting flames 30 to 40 feet into the air. The cause was cigarette ashes left in a bag in a wicker wastebasket, said Capt. Bob Reinhardt, the Fire Department's arson investigator.

A caregiver had fallen asleep and was awoken by smoke from the wastebasket. She doused the small fire and thought she had put it out when she fell back asleep, Reinhardt said.

"She was later woken up by a bigger fire with flames going up the wall," Reinhardt said.

Presant saw the flames from his home four doors down. Next door neighbor Flo Johnson was awakened when her son Dennis Frederick screamed after seeing the flames.

Frederick ran next door to attempt a rescue of Fox, Johnson said.

"My son tried to get through the front door by kicking it in," Johnson said. "He hurt his foot really bad."

Police officers Theresa Geier, Angelo Dahlia and Scott Moody entered the home but couldn't get more than five feet inside due to the smoke and flames, Presant said.

Fire Department Capt. Ron Bell said that Frederick's response was the right one even if he had put himself at risk by going inside the house.

"You do what your conscience leads you to do," Bell said. "He made a very valiant effort to get inside."

Fox was described by several neighbors as bedridden and is looked after by three caregivers. The neighbors knew Fox used the front bedroom and that's where they focused their attention after the fire broke out.

Next door neighbor Christian Hernandez, who juggled having to move cars from the family's driveway and calming his mother down, was surprised by the silence from inside Fox's home.

"I would have expected to hear somebody scream if their house was burning down," Hernandez said.

Presant, meanwhile, used a flashlight to locate Fox in her bedroom but couldn't see much because of the smoke. When two police cars pulled up he directed the officers to window.

Hawver was inside the home for about 10 seconds before lifting Fox out the window.

She was then treated by paramedics on the front lawn, Presant said.

All the officers were treated for smoke inhalation, Bell said.

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