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Woman in wheelchair is saved from east Modesto fire

Modesto Fire Capt. Matt Curless and firefighter Ryan Viss are trained to wait for a second team of firefighters to arrive before they charge into a burning building.

The backup team is supposed to be on the scene just in case Curless and Viss are trapped and need help to get out. But they can disregard that safety rule when they are told someone's life is in danger, Curless said.

That's what happened Wednesday afternoon at 2429 Roble Ave., just east of El Vista Avenue in east Modesto.

Curless and Viss pulled Joyce Evans, 73, who was in a wheelchair, and her son, Wayne Michael Evans, 49, from their burning home.

After being told a fourth family member, an adult daughter, was still in the house, the firefighters rushed back against intense flames and thick smoke. After a complete search, and beaten back twice by intense heat, they left the house to find out that the daughter was down the street.

"The adrenaline goes up quite a bit, but you rely on your training and you go in," Curless said.

Neither firefighter was injured. Fam-ily members suffered moderate injuries.

Dana Evans, 38, said the fire caught the family off-guard when a fan extension cord ignited a small flame that quickly spread to the wall and the bedsheets in his brother's bedroom in the back of the house.

Dana Evans cares for his brother, sister and his mother, who are developmentally disabled, he said.

He was asleep in his bedroom when he heard his mother screaming. He got up to find his brother trying to extinguish the fire with a bucket of water.

The flames climbed the walls to the ceiling and nearly trapped the brothers.

"It tried to box us in," Dana Evans said. "The fire was behind us now. I just said, 'Get out, get out.' "

His mom and brother refused to leave immediately, and it was several minutes before he called firefighters.

"It's everything they own; they don't want to leave," Dana Evans said.

He said his mother weighs about 290 pounds and is confined to a wheelchair. It was stuck and blocking the hallway as the flames continued to spread.

In a desperate attempt to get his mother out, Dana Evans pushed her out of the wheelchair and tried to drag her out, but got only as far as the front door.

He then ran outside to the back to look for his sister, but he couldn't find her. He returned to the front to meet firefighters, who arrived within three minutes of the call.

Viss ran inside to get Joyce Evans, who was crawling to get out.

He and Curless pulled her to the lawn and returned to get Wayne Evans, who was trying to put out the flames with a garden hose. He was surrounded by smoke.

All Curless and Viss could see was Wayne Evans' two legs below the smoke.

"He was really doing more harm to himself than anything else," said Modesto Fire Battalion Chief Sean Slamon.

1,000 degree heat

When Viss and Curless rushed back in to look for the daughter, heavy flames met them in the hallway.

At waist level, the fire reached temperatures of about 1,000 degrees, and the heat in the ceiling was closer to 2,000 degrees, Curless said.

The heat pushed back the firefighters twice before other firefighters cut holes in the roof to lift the smoke and relieve the heat.

"Frankly, we got our butts kicked a little bit," Curless said.

Curless and Viss were able to search all three bedrooms using a thermal-imaging camera. A second team of firefighters conducted a secondary, more thorough, search and did not find anyone.

"We were pretty confident nobody was inside," Curless said.

Said Dana Evans about his sister's early escape: "Apparently, she was the smart one."

The fire collapsed a backyard patio and gutted the home. It caused an estimated $150,000 in damage, Slamon said.

Wayne Evans and his mother suffered smoke inhalation and were taken to nearby hospitals. He also suffered burns to his hands and some singed hair. They were released Wednesday night.

Red Cross officials provided the family with a temporary place to stay and some clothing.

"We have nothing," Dana Evans said. "Everything is burned."

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at or 578-2394.