Boy recognized for saving elder from fire

McGrath teenager pulled elderly man from burning cabin

Posted: Tuesday, January 02, 2007

ANCHORAGE - A McGrath teenager is being hailed as a hero for rescuing an elderly man from a burning cabin last month.

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The fire was one of three serious blazes to hit the community in December.

The Catholic church, built last century from logs and considered a historic building in the Athabascan Interior community of 347, burned Dec. 12.

Eight days later, a cabin belonging to Esai Esai, 65, burned to the ground.

The two-story Chamai Building, owned and occupied by the tribal government and housing some state offices, burned to the ground Christmas Eve. Firefighters kept flames off nearby buildings in 40-below temperatures that threatened to freeze hoses.

Most of the contents in the buildings were destroyed, said Sharon Gutler Strick, the tribal government's first chief and Catholic church administrator.

"It's like being hit in the stomach," she said. "It's like, where do we go from here?"

Thomas Keesling, 17, helped make sure none of the fires caused a fatality.

He had gone to the cabin to visit his friend, Esai, on Dec. 20. Through a window, Keeling saw glowing flames on the floor and thick smoke.

He opened the door and ran inside. Esai lay in flames with his Carhartt overalls burning.

Keesling pulled Esai out the door by his legs, snuffed him with snow, then jumped on his snowmobile to get help, he said.

"I was pretty shook up," he said. "I was kind of freaked out."

Nearby, local firefighting and rescue teams were holding a joint meeting. Keesling burst in, shouting that a man was on fire.

The fire destroyed the cabin. Responders flew Esai to Anchorage with third-degree burns. He was later flown to a Seattle burn treatment center.

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