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PHOTO GALLERY: Residents help save family from fire late Thursday

News Photo by Julie Riddle Alpena resident Emilio Olivo describes rescuing neighbors from their burning home late Thursday night.

ALPENA — Neighbors saved lives by their quick action when a house on 11th Avenue at Sable Street caught fire in Alpena late Thursday night.

Emilio Olivo, Cody Graham, and others were having a last smoke outside when Olivo saw small flames in the doorway of an apartment building across the street.

The two raced to the home, where they found the fire had already grown in the few seconds since they’d spotted it. Fire filled the entrance and an inner hallway, threatening nearby propane tanks, the men reported this morning.

“It looked like the doorway to hell,” Graham said grimly.

Olivo raced toward a police officer stopped nearby, yelling to call 911, while Graham scooped up handfuls of whatever rocks and pebbles he could find and hurled them at the upper windows of the burning building, hoping to alert a family he knew lived there.

News Photo by Julie Riddle An 11th Avenue home is seen today scarred by a fire that happened overnight Thursday.

Several women flagged down passing cars, begging them to honk their horns to attract the attention of the family inside the home.

A resident finally appeared at an upper window, and Graham screamed that the house was on fire.

Flames had, by that time, crawled up the side of the home, melting siding and pouring smoke, Graham said.

The family — two parents and a small child — moved to a back room of the apartment and crawled out a window onto a lower portion of roof.

The parents handed the child down to Graham, who said he ran away from the burning house as the child, whose hair had been singed, clung to him and cried.

News Photo by Julie Riddle A building on 11th Avenue in Alpena shows scars from a fire late Thursday night.

At Olivo’s encouragement, the woman jumped from the low roof into his outstretched arms, knocking him into a nearby car. The man leapt onto the car, denting the roof.

All three family members were out of the house by the time firefighters arrived, about three minutes after the fire was spotted.

By that time, the fast-moving fire had eaten into the upper story where the family had been.

A wheelchair-bound man in a basement apartment was lifted out shortly thereafter by Alpena Police Department officers, Olivo said, although he had been ready to go into the home himself to try to help the man.

“This is our neighborhood,” Olivo said. “We maybe don’t hang out together, but we love our neighborhood. We’re here for each other on this block.”

The woman in the upper apartment told Olivo she had left a burning cigarette downstairs and had forgotten to go down and retrieve it. Investigators suspect the fire may have been caused by careless smoking on the porch.

Two dogs and three cats were rescued from the home after the fire was contained, according to Delmar Wieschowski, owner of the apartment building, who arrived at the scene after the residents had been rescued.

Firefighters gave the animals oxygen and took care of them until an Animal Control officer took custody of the pets.

All four residents were treated at the scene by paramedics from the Alpena Fire Department and transported to MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena, none with life-threatening injuries.

The neighbors who ran to help didn’t think of simply going back into their houses to call 911, Graham said. As soon as they saw the fire, they acted, more worried about the people in the burning house than their own safety.

“Chicks dig scars,” grinned Graham, unruffled by the suggestion he could have been hurt while helping.

Adrenaline carried the men through the time of crisis, but, Olivo said, later that night, he went home and cried.

“If I wasn’t there to see it,” Olivo said, “we’d have had four dead people.”

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