MANCHESTER, NH (CBS) – Nearly a dozen people have lost their homes and practically all their possessions in a fire.
Many of the people involved are just grateful to have escaped alive, and they are thankful an off-duty Manchester firefighter rushed into the burning building to help people get out.
When victim, Phylicia Smith, saw Lt. John Couture was standing outside the burned building the next day, they were overjoyed.
“I just want to say thank you,” said Smith.
“Can I give you a hug. We were just so worried about the kids so thank you so much for helping all of us we appreciate it,” said Brenna Wilson, Phylicia Smith’s sister.
The emotional thank you was because Smith and her two young children were on the second floor and had no idea flames were shooting out of the building until someone knocked on the door.
Couture then helped guide them and others to safety as he checked in each apartment to make sure no one was trapped.
Couture had been at his son’s football practice when he saw the smoke from a couple blocks away.
“I didn’t hear sirens. I didn’t see anybody yet, and I said oh my God,” explained Couture.
No one had called 911 even though there were dozens of people on the street so John ran into the building to help.
The fire started in an abandoned triple-decker behind the occupied apartment building where Smith and her family live. It spread to their building and to the home next door.
Fire officials believe it could be arson.
“To me it was not an accidental fire,” said James Burkush, Manchester Fire Chief. “It was something that was possibly intentionally set as far as I’m concerned.”
Tearful residents were allowed briefly into the building to see what they could salvage.
“Thank God he was here,” said Wilson. “He’s a hero. He saved my sister and my God kids.”
Couture says he’s not a hero.
“It was a group effort. Everyone got out and everyone went home at the end of the day. That’s what it’s all about,” said Couture.
Fire investigators have not said who may have set the fire or why. WBZ-TV has learned the home was in pre-foreclosure and there is evidence that squatters sometimes stay in the building.