Elderly couple rescued from burning home by neighbors in Whittier

WHITTIER — Concerned neighbors rescued an elderly couple from the burning house Friday, then attacked the blaze with garden hoses until firefighters arrived.
Ashley Colbern, 21, said she noticed smoke coming from the Rio Florida Drive home of her elderly neighbors, 83-year-old Matthew Papac and 80-year-old Corrine Papac, shortly before 2 p.m.
Colbern said she rang the doorbell, and Corrine Papac came to the door.
“She wasn’t aware of the fire,” Colbern said.
Colbern said she asked Corrine Papac where her husband was, and the woman directed her to a back bedroom.
After telling Corrine Papac to get out of the home, Colbern said she entered the bedroom and found Matthew Papac napping.
He didn’t respond to her warnings at first, she said.
Matthew Papac said he thought he was dreaming when Colbern first arrived and began telling him there was a fire.
“I was jumping — I was doing anything I could to get his attention,” she said.
Ultimately, Matthew Papac said he was escorted from his home by Colbern and another neighbor, 70-year-old Bruce Wyatt.
“We were running through the den there,” Matthew Papac said. “The smoke was filling up the room. Bruce grabbed me by the shoulder and said, ‘stay low.’”
In the end, everyone made it out of the house unharmed, though fire officials initially estimated the value of the damage to the single-story home at about $600,000.
Wyatt said he and a gardening crew working in the neighborhood then squirted garden hoses on the fire until firefighters arrived, though it had little effect on the raging roof fire.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation, he said, though officials were looking into the possibility the blaze was ignited by the home’s fireplace.
The Papac’s daughter, 49-year-old Debbie Ferrari, said she visits her parent about three times a day and had been at the home only hours before the fire broke out.
“Thank God for (the neighbors),” she said. “They would have been sound asleep and burned to death.”
Ferrari erupted into tears as she hugged neighbors who took part in the rescue.
Nearly 30 firefighters extinguished the fire in about 25 minutes, Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Sam Padilla said.
Once ignited, the fire spread quickly over the wooded, shake-shingle roof, Padilla added.
He said firefighters would likely be on scene for much of the day stripping away the roof and looking for hot spots.
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