REDONDO BEACH — John Drake says he and his family have enjoyed living next door to Alma Butler and her daughter, Mary Zaharis, for the past 13 years.
"They are a couple of nice ladies," he said of the two elderly widows. "The mother is 89 years old, and she is a spunky lady. We have had a good time watching the two of them and their families over the years."
So when Drake, his son, Joseph, and his wife, Mary Ann, saw smoke billowing from the women's home one Saturday afternoon last month, he never thought twice about crawling into the burning house with a garden hose, he said.
"Sure I was afraid, initially," he said. "But we know these people. They are very elderly. What else could we do?"
Drake, 48, said he confronted three-foot flames in the living room, where, it was later determined, the fire had been started accidentally by a cigarette. Drake rushed from the home several times to fill his lungs with fresh air, he said.
Meanwhile, Joseph, 21, guided Butler out of the house and pulled Zaharis, 69, from the smoke-filled kitchen. Fire officials said the woman had collapsed from smoke inhalation.
Once certain that both women were safe, the two men extinguished the blaze while Mary Ann Drake, 46, administered first aid to the injured women.
The Drakes--John, an actor, Mary Ann, an X-ray technician, and Joseph, an electronics technician--were honored this week by the Redondo Beach City Council for "their unselfish demonstration of courage and heroism."
The family received a standing ovation from the council and the audience after Mayor Barbara J. Doerr read a resolution commending them for risking their lives to rescue their neighbors.
"It was a nice gesture," John Drake said. "I am surprised that anyone noticed."