Renee Matlock, a single mother of four, awoke to the sound of an alarm sometime after 5 a.m. Monday. It was a little louder than the 6 o'clock alarm clock she uses to get up to send her kids off to school.
As she stumbled out of bed and turned the corner from the hallway, she saw smoke billowing into the front room of the north Modesto home. Flames were starting to show from the laundry room and kitchen area around the corner.
"I thought about going for the extinguisher, but it was back there where the flames were," said Matlock, motioning toward the burned-out kitchen. "I decided to get my kids."
She went to her sons' room first. Lavin, 7, was there, but Andrew, 3, wasn't. She looked under the beds, didn't find him and moved to her daughter's room. She woke up Andrea, 6, looked under the bed for Andrew and didn't see him. She raced to her room -- pushing the two oldest children in front of her -- to rescue the baby, 8-month-old Dallas.
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Matlock and the three children quickly made their way out the front door, 20 feet away. Matlock put them in the family car and told them to stay put.
Now she was ready to go back into the house for Andrew. As she moved toward the door, Andrea solved the mystery of the missing child. "Andrew's in my room."
Matlock pulled her shirt over her nose and mouth and went back in the home.
"The house was filled with black smoke," she said. She ran into her daughter's room and found Andrew under a blanket. She picked him up like a football and ran out of the burning home.
After depositing Andrew in the car, Matlock knocked on a neighbor's door to call 911. The call went out at 6:33 a.m. Not knowing the kids were safe, Deanne Trujillo told the dispatcher there were four children in her neighbor's burning house.
By 6:37, at least four engines and Modesto Fire Chief Jim Miguel responded. He had just dropped one of his sons off at a church seminary class when the call came in. He followed an engine from the Standiford station to the fire just a few blocks away.
Miguel said because of the initial report of victims inside, 10 firefighters went into the burning home. Three took a hose inside and seven conducted a room-by-room search.
The mother and onlookers quickly informed firefighters that all the occupants were safe at a neighbor's home.
The fire was under control within four minutes, but caused an estimated $75,000 in damage. The inside of the home was gutted and firefighters had put a large hole in the roof. The cause of the blaze is under investigation.
Miguel credited the smoke detectors in the home with saving five lives.
Diane Miller, who lives three doors down, shook her head at the family's misfortune. "She lost everything," Miller said.
Matlock said she worked full time as a pizza delivery driver until her hours were cut in the last month. "I worked very hard for what was in there," she said, surveying the damage to her house.
Matlock showed a brave face to her children as they asked what happened to treasures left behind. Whether it was a PlayStation II, TV or favorite toy, her answer was, "Don't worry, we'll get another one."
Andrew then asked about "Fishy."
Matlock sighed. The little black fish did not survive. "Fishy's gone to heaven."
There was one silver lining among the smoking remains. Thirty minutes after the flames had been doused, a fireman came around the house carrying a small white dog. Maggie, the family terrier-dachshund, found shelter under a bush and was OK.
Neighbors called it a teary moment and a good end to a very bad day.
Bee staff writer Roger W. Hoskins can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2311.
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