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Bystander saves 16 adults, 2 kids from Northeast Portland fire

Residents who escaped from a fire at a Northeast Portland four-plex are crediting a passerby with saving their lives Monday morning.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A fire in Northeast Portland sent families running from their homes early Monday morning, and they’re crediting a passerby for saving all of their lives.

Like many of the people who live in a four-plex near Northeast 108th Avenue and Halsey Street, Gruong Le was fast asleep just before 5:30 a.m.

He woke up to a woman banging on his front door.

“She said, 'Fire! Fire!'” Le recalled.

That woman was Kelly Walrath.

“I just pounded on doors, getting people out, trying to work through a language barrier," Walrath said. "I'm trying to get people to come out and not go back in."

Le said the families living in the building are all Vietnamese.

Walrath said she just happened to be driving by when she saw flames.

“I could see flames coming from between the buildings and as I was calling 911, I just went, broke out the front window of the door and went in, pounded on the door to get people out and just started getting people out,” said Walrath.

A Portland Fire & Rescue spokesperson said 16 adults and two kids got out safe. No one was hurt, in large part thanks to Walrath's actions.

“So it's incredible she did this," said Portland Fire Captain Luisa Jones. "It’s really wonderful.”

Jones said people shouldn't put themselves at risk when jumping in to help. But if they do choose to help, it can make all the difference.

“At least bang on doors, pull fire alarms if you see it,” she said.

Jones said the flames started on the outside of the building and spread quickly. Fire crews worked aggressively to douse the flames and kept them from spreading to nearby buildings.

“We have a washer-dryer unit, several air conditioning units, and then also some cooking equipment on the outside of the building,” said Jones. “It's possible any one of those could be an ignition source.”

Whatever it was, people living in the building said they got out safe thanks to Walrath's quick thinking.

When asked if she's a hero, Walrath said she was just being a good human being.

But people like Le are giving her a little more credit.

“Everybody she saved. Thank you. Thank you so much,” said Le.

The families affected by the fire are getting help from the Red Cross.

Jones said this is also a good reminder, as we head into a hotter season, to be careful.

“It is possible for this stuff to have been used last night, and depending on fuel sources like charcoal or wood fire stove, can spread into a nearby combustible and smolders overnight,” said Jones.

She said she’s seen fires start from ashes out of a fireplace or wood stove, that had been removed seven days previous.

Jones said the best course of action when it comes to ashes, is to put them in a metal can with a lid.