A San Diego man was driving home when he saw a building on fire and stopped to save the life of an elderly stranger.
Richard Burke had already done one good deed for the day, when he happened upon the house in flames. He was driving home from volunteering at his son’s school Thursday afternoon,when, Burke said, “I smelled the smoke from the van, and then I looked over at all the smoke coming out of the house."
Flames and thick black smoke were shooting out from the second story of a home in the 2400 block of Calle Aguadulce in Paradise Hills. He ran from the van and banged on the front door. No one answered. Then, another passerby, Marcos Usquiano, managed to free the emergency latch on a barred window and the men ran inside, along with a teenage boy who also stopped to help.
"We went inside and went upstairs and found the old lady," Burke said. "She was kind of wandering around upstairs. So we were able to get her to the stairs, and once she started down the stairs, I went back and kind of crawled around up in the second story to see if there was anybody else there. It was pretty much pitch-black. There was a lot of smoke. The smell was like a lot of burning plastic. It stung."
Firefighters said Burke and the other good Samaritans saved the life of the 93-year-old woman, the only person inside the burning building.
“I really couldn't honestly tell you what I was thinking at the moment," Burke said. "I was just trying to do what I could. I guess it was good enough."
The family of the elderly woman said that, although she lost everything she owned, she would be just fine.
“You don't run across those kind of people that often,” said the victim’s son, George Rice.
Rice said he is "very, very grateful. And glad there are people out there who would go to those extremes in an emergency.”
The San Diego Fire Rescue Department has nominated the men for service awards for their heroic actions. They’re still trying to locate the teenage boy to honor him. He left without giving anyone his name.
Burke is no stranger to bravery under pressure. The Army veteran served for 14 months in Iraq. The modest San Diego native has trouble explaining why he is willing to risk his life for others.
"Makes me feel good, I guess," Burke said. "No reason, really."
Burke plans to check in on the woman he saved, to see if he can help her in any way, saying "she pretty much just lost everything. It's really tragic. so if I could go over and help a little more, that would be nice."