Man saves 7 from house fire

Published 1:01 am Thursday, May 10, 2018

MONTEREY — Steed Hill woke up smelling smoke.

Mercede Dauzart, Hill’s wife, was shaking him, he said, and screaming.

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The house was on fire and Hill, Dauzart and six children were inside.

Hill said he stood up, saw the roiling black smoke and took off running.

The night before, Hill had taken his daughter, Madison, 8, out for her birthday.

They went bowling, went out to eat, and got home just after midnight Sunday morning.

The birthday party guests had run right inside, he said, and crashed on the couches in the living room.

Hill said he and Dauzart took their 6-month-old daughter to their bedroom and did the same.

When he woke up just three hours later, the happy night had come to an end.

“I can’t even remember if the fire alarm was going off,” Hill said. “I just ran in the living room and my kids were screaming.”

Hill said his memory is blurry. He does not remember every step he took; his only thought, he said, was getting his family out of the burning building.

Hill rushed to the front door and grabbed the knob, not knowing that the porch was beginning to collapse — not knowing that the handle was scorching hot.

Hill said his hand burned, but he could not really remember the pain. Later, he would discover the second-degree burns across his fingers and palms.

At the moment, he said, it just did not matter.

Hill said he ran to the shed, just a few feet from the house, looking for something to break out the windows.

“I could hear my wife screaming and beating on the window,” he said. “I couldn’t see them for the smoke. I kept thinking I wasn’t going to be able to get them out.”

Hill ran back to the house with a little plank in hand and shattered the glass backdoor.

While Hill had gone to find something to get them out, Dauzart had gathered all the children in the bedroom, on the corner of the house opposite the fire, and tried to push out the window-unit air conditioner.

By the time Hill broke the glass door, fire was between him and his family.

Hill said he ran to the bedroom window, removed the AC unit and began pulling children out of the house.

The older children, he said, he pulled quickly through the window, just trying to get them out.

When his wife handed him their baby daughter, however, Hill said he remembers pausing for perhaps the first time since he woke that morning, not knowing where to put her, before he lay the baby on the ground and turned back to get his wife.

“Just that moment when she got out, the ceiling started coming down in the bedroom,” Hill said. “I never want to relive it again.”

The fire was so hot that as he loaded the children into his large pickup and drove to his aunt’s home, the headlights were melting, he said.

After the fire

On Wednesday, days after the fire, smoke still rose occasionally from the wreckage.

A bicycle lay on the ground near the front porch; the wheels and rubber handlebars had melted, leaving nothing but a metal frame.

Hill gestured to the window where he had pulled each of the seven people out into the yard.

“We lost a bunch of stuff,” Hill said. “But the what-ifs — that’s what’s been bothering me. I keep thinking, what if I hadn’t woken up in time?”

Outside of the what-ifs, Hill said he keeps thinking about the coincidences that kept his family alive.

“Our couch is really low to the ground and I remember the smoke was just black all over the ceiling,” he said. “If the couch hadn’t been so low, they might have breathed it all in.”

A fire marshal came to the house Monday and said faulty electrical wires in the attic likely caused the blaze, Hill said.

After dropping his children and wife at his aunt’s house, Hill went back to his house that night to try to save anything he could.

Buddy Tiffee, a neighbor, pulled up just before 4 a.m. and tried to help him salvage something.

“I came down to see if I could help,” Tiffee said. “It was all just too far gone to do anything.”

Tiffee’s actions, though, Hill said, were indicative of an outpouring of support from the community.

In the days since the fire, Hill said his neighbors and friends have donated clothing and helped them in any way possible.

“It’s overwhelming,” Hill said. “We were just speechless. People have just come out of their way for us. Even people who don’t have much to give, gave what they can. It means a lot to us.”