Man catches dropped baby as neighbors rescue family from house fire

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Mike Watkiss

Posted on December 30, 2013 at 7:04 AM

Updated Thursday, Jan 2 at 12:26 PM

Map: 71st Avenue and Glendale

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A Glendale family says they are alive this morning and will be able to ring in the new year because of their neighbors.

A fire tore through their house in the area of 71st and Glendale avenues late Sunday night.

The neighbors reportedly heard the family calling for help and used a ladder to help them escape their burning home.

"They were on the top balcony," Jose Magaña said. "They got out onto the balcony from a window. ... Right where they were standing, there were flames already right under them."

Magaña said the mother dropped her baby girl into his waiting arms while his young nephews got a ladder.

"She kind of struggled with it, but she dropped the baby into my hands," Magaña said.

Once the 2-year-old was safe, he set up the ladder and the mother and her 12-year-old son were able to climb down to safety.

While Magaña does not know the family well, he immediately jumped into action when he saw that they were in trouble.

"I realize now that if we weren't there to help them, it could have been a lot worse," he said.

No sooner was the family safely on the ground than the balcony they had been on erupted into flames.

The fire posed a challenge to firefighters.

"We had what's called a flashover, which is basically where super-heated smoke starts banking down from ceiling and pretty much near simultaneously all the material within the structure ignited on the second story," Michael Young of the Glendale Fire Department explained.

"At that time, the roof started sagging, which is a danger to firefighters any time you could have a building that could possibly collapse,m" he continued.

Retired Chief Vincent Dunn on WorkingFire.net described a flashover as "the most dangerous time of a fire."

"Flashover signals several major changes in a fire and is the end of an effective search and rescue in a room," he wrote. "This is the beginning of the collapse danger."

That danger in mind, the Glendale commander pulled his firefighters out of the house and ordered them to take a defensive position, fighting the flames from outside.

Cell phone video from the scene showed the intense flames shooting from the roof as firefighters set up their main line.

No injuries were reported.

Investigators believe the fire started on the first floor of the house, but they do not know what sparked it. The collapsed roof means it's too dangerous for investigators to go inside and take a look at the ruins of the home.

"The Glendale Fire Department reminds residents that everyone needs to have two escape routes to get out of their home in the event of a fire and should practice their escape plans twice a year, especially with children," Young said in a news release. "The family should also determine a meeting place in case different escape routes are used so the family is aware that everyone made it out of the fire."

Escape plan tips from the U.S. Fire Administration

Draw a map of each level of your home and show all doors and windows. Find two ways to get out of each room. Make sure all doors and windows that lead outside open easily.

Only purchase collapsible escape ladders evaluated by a recognized testing laboratory. Use the ladder only in a real emergency.

Teach children how to escape on their own in case you cannot help them.

Have a plan for everyone in your home who has a disability.

Practice your fire escape plan at night and during the daytime.

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