Couple rescued from Portage house blaze caused by wayward firework

PORTAGE, Ind. (WLS) -- A couple was rescued from a burning home in Portage, Ind., which investigators said was ignited by an out of control firework.

The fire broke out Saturday night and a neighbor helped rescue the couple. The victims' family said they bear no ill will toward the neighbors who were setting off the fireworks, and who reported the incident to the fire department that night and apologized personally to the family afterward.

Eldon and Betty Hills had no idea what was happening when their house on Joann Street caught fire. Their son Ed said they had just gone to bed.

"They were in the back bedroom, pretty much unaware because it was outside and smoke detectors hadn't gone off yet," Ed Hills said.

The Portage Fire Department said neighbors across the street admitted the cause was a firework gone rogue.

"It was a mortar-style firework that didn't go the direction he thought it was going to go, and it hit the neighbor's house and it started on fire," said Chief Tom Fieffer, Portage Fire Department.

Next neighbor Frank Chapa said that after the fire broke out and he was sure his family was safe, he ran into the burning home to make sure the couple got out. He first found Eldon looking for his two cats.

"It was so black you couldn't see anything. He said he's not leaving, and I said, oh, today you got to go," Chapa said.

After Eldon was safe, Chapa said he found Betty stuck behind a fence with a bucket of water, trying to put the fire out.

"I just had to spring into action and do what I had to do. I love that couple next door, they are like my mom and dad," he said.

Ed said he is forever grateful for his neighbors making sure his parents got out alive.

"I'm glad they got out. They lost a cat, but they didn't lose their lives," he said. "It could have been, you know, devastating."

With Independence Day a little over a week away, Portage fire officials said the safest way for people to enjoy fireworks is at a public show. Setting off fireworks on a residential street is an uncertain situation.
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