Teen killed in house fire was helping others escape

Posted: Tuesday, November 06, 2007

ANCHORAGE - The mother of an 18-year-old man killed in an early morning fire yesterday said her son died after helping two younger boys escape.

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Justin Vera died after getting trapped in a bedroom, where he was searching for three small dogs who were hiding during the blaze, fire department spokeswoman Jennifer Klugh said.

His mother, Martha Castro, said Justin died while saving his brother and another boy, both 13 years old.

Two of the three dogs died and Vera's brother, Brandon Castro, suffered minor burns on an arm. The other teen was not injured.

The boys told Anchorage Fire Department investigators that after Vera knew they had escaped from the house, he tried to find the dogs.

Rescuers reached Vera by ladder through a window and took him to Alaska Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Vera played junior varsity football a year ago at West High as a junior but left school before his senior year.

His mother said that Vera normally sleeps in a section of the house that did not sustain any fire or smoke damage, but spent Saturday night in another room so he could keep an eye on the 13-year-olds while his mother was out of town.

"My son was a good kid," Martha Castro said. "He told me, 'Go, Mommy. Go on a vacation. I know you need the rest. Everything will be OK.'

Fire officials said the cause of the fire was still being determined Sunday afternoon and appeared to be unintentional. The blaze caused an estimated $50,000 in damage.

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