Ali Daniels wasn't sure which alarmed him more: when the child was screaming inside the burning house, or when, abruptly, he stopped.
Daniels had seen the smoke from down the street; he thought it was his mother's house on fire. It was a house behind his mother's, "and once I got there I heard children in the house screaming."
The wooden house near the Memorial Coliseum was pumping out flames and smoke around midday Thursday when Daniels--a city street maintenance worker, who had stayed home with bronchitis--and ultimately a half-dozen men managed to wrench off window bars and kick in doors, and get two children out of the house.
Firefighters rescued a third child and a 50-year-old man, the grandfather of at least one of the children. The first child rescued, a 5-year-old girl, was sent home late Thursday night from California Medical Center, a spokeswoman said. The two boys, ages 3 and 6, were in serious condition at Northridge Hospital Medical Center, where they had been taken by helicopter for treatment of smoke inhalation.
The man, at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, was in critical but stable condition with smoke inhalation and second-degree burns on 10% of his body, a spokeswoman said. The accelerating fire shattered a window and propelled flames outside, said Ed McDonald, assistant security chief at a clothing manufacturer near the house.
Three clothing company janitors, as well as several construction workers and welders at work there hurried over to help, as did passer-by Art Huffman, 25, of Downey, said Los Angeles Fire Battalion Chief Russell Weck.
By the time Daniels ran up, one of the men had kicked in the front door and waded in with a fire extinguisher to find the children.
"The smoke was so intense he had to come out," he said, but the 5-year-old girl "ran out right behind him."
Daniels, coming up alongside, heard cries from a bedroom, where a couple of men had already tried to wrench off the burglar bars.
"You know how it is--I'm not that big or anything but I don't know, it was something that had to be done."
When he finally got the bars off, he crawled halfway through the bedroom window, groping for the children.
"They could've been one foot in front of you, you couldn't see 'em because (of) the smoke.
"We yelled to them, told them to come, follow the voice, come to the voice, and one of them did. The other one, he didn't. We were about to go in and try to get him because he stopped screaming but at that time the firemen had come around the corner. . . . Before they could even park the truck I was in the street telling them there was a kid in there."
Daniels, smoke-blinded, had grabbed one boy and passed him to the man behind him, who pulled the child free.
Like a couple of the other good Samaritans, he felt a bit woozy, and the smoke didn't do much for his bronchitis. But "if I saved a life," he said, "I feel good about it."