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Nov 5, 2012 12:54 AM by Jacqui Heinrich, jheinrich@koaa.com

Pueblo man saves elderly woman from burning home

An elderly woman is alive thanks to some people she's never met before. A Pueblo man was the first to react when he saw the woman in trouble; her house caught on fire after she was smoking near her oxygen tank.

Manuel Martinez was driving down the street when he saw flames coming from the home on West 17th St. in Pueblo. When he saw an elderly woman standing helpless in the doorway, he jumped into action. "She was real, real red because of the fire but she was just standing up, looking out the door. Smoke was coming to the sides of her and a little bit of flames," Martinez said.

The woman, Betty, is confined to a wheelchair. Martinez says it was a miracle she even got to the door. "She had her hair burned, all over her back, a little bit on her shirt. She couldn't even walk, I'm telling you, when we pulled her she was dragging her feet," Martinez explained.

Martinez was helping her out of the house when her oxygen tank exploded, throwing him fifteen feet away from the house. He got up, went back in, and helped the woman move across the street with the help of another neighbor while the house burned.

Fire bosses say everyone was lucky to get out alive. Another fire in Pueblo killed four people last week after someone was smoking near an oxygen tank.

Assistant Fire Chief Bill Nemick demonstrated how dangerous fire and oxygen tanks can be, using a tank and tube from his instruction classes. "Oxygen in the atmosphere is 21%. Oxygen coming out of the bottle, medical oxygen, is 100%, and oxygen is what's needed to make a fire burn. It just makes the fire grow rapidly similar to what gasoline would do. Don't have oxygen near an open flame, period," Nemick told News 5 in an interview. "It could be extremely tragic like the one a few days ago. If it wasn't for the lady's neighbors, there's a good chance she wouldn't have made it."

Luckily everyone involved made it out and that woman is now staying with nearby family members, but fire officials say the scare is a clear warning that disaster can happen quickly, and as that other fire proved, it can turn tragic.

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