The three baby sitters gathered in a suburban Puyallup home April 15 were doing what teens do.
“We were just talking about life and stuff,” Karsyn Perez, then 13, said.
The teens were grouped around the kitchen’s island, listening to music and deciding what to have for dinner.
Upstairs were eight younger siblings and friends playing games.
By the time the evening was over, the house would be a smoking ruin and the three teens heroes for risking their lives to save the eight others.
“I don’t know how they did it,” Andrea Perez-Thiessen, Perez’s mother, said nearly two months later. “It’s amazing.”
Perez, Matthew Wood, 15, and the other kids were gathered in the home of Trinity Harrison, 15.
Harrison and Wood, both Emerald Ridge High School students, knew Perez, a Stahl Junior High School student, through an All Star Cheer club.
The three teens told the story of their heroics shortly before being given Citizen Lifesaving Awards on Monday evening by Central Pierce Fire and Rescue.
Parents of the eight children had put the three teens in charge of the younger children while they went to dinner on April 15.
Wood’s two younger sisters and Harrison’s two younger siblings were part of the group upstairs.
Harrison and Perez had been using hoverboards, also called self-balancing scooters, earlier in the day. They plugged them into a wall socket in the home’s hallway to recharge.
The teens’ kitchen discussion was suddenly interrupted by an explosion.
“It sounded like one of the kids threw a toy down the stairs,” Harrison said.
The trio, led by Perez, walked into the hallway.
“I saw this bright yellow light, so I walked towards it,” Perez recalled.
When she realized what she was seeing, “I yelled fire, fire!”
One of the hoverboard batteries had apparently exploded. Sparks and flames were shooting from it.
A couple of the younger children, attracted to the commotion, started to come down the stairs.
Wood told the children to stay upstairs. When the sparks stopped, he ran up to gather the children.
Perez and Harrison’s first instinct was to get water to douse the fire.
“But then I realized that’s not going to work,” Perez said.
Perez headed outside with a couple of kids and began to gather them all in one spot. First, she had to kick down a baby gate.
I don’t know how they did it. It’s amazing.
The teens can’t say how much time transpired between the first explosion and the evacuation.
“It felt like forever,” Perez said.
Within seconds, the burning hoverboard set fire to coats and jackets hanging just above them.
“Every time I looked at the fire, it was bigger,” Harrison said.
Before Wood and Harrison could get all of the kids out of the house, a couple of the 12-year-olds tried to shove a mattress out of a window to jump on.
“Once we got all the kids out, I did a head count to make sure we had gotten everyone,” Perez said.
One was missing.
“I looked at Trinity, and I said ‘Jayda’s still in the house’,” Perez said.
Jayda Blue was one of three 5-year-old triplets.
At that moment the teens heard screams coming from inside the house.
“I didn’t even think,” Harrison said. “I turned around and ran back up the stairs.” Wood followed her.
By that time, the fire had spread to the walls, ceiling and stairs. Thick black smoke was curling up the stairwell and filling the upper floor.
Harrison couldn’t see.
“The whole upstairs was pitch black,” Harrison said. “But I knew my way around that house in the dark so I knew where I was going.”
Harrison found the girl in a loft, frozen in terror.
To get out of the house, Harrison had to throw Jayda over a portion of the burning stairs and then jump herself.
The little girl was covered in soot by the time she got outside.
Wood tried calling 911 but he couldn’t get through. Too many neighbors on the street were already calling.
Shortly after she got Jayda out of the house, Harrison heard her dog, Sandy, yelping.
Harrison turned away at this point in the retelling, tears streaming down her face.
Perez picked up the story.
Harrison, Perez said, was about to re-enter the now fully involved house to save Sandy.
“I told her, ‘Trinity you can’t go back inside.’ ”
Together, Wood and Perez restrained Harrison.
Sandy and another dog that belonged to a friend died in the fire. Two other dogs and two cats survived.
The fire became so intense it caught the two houses on either side on fire. Perez and Wood knocked on their doors.
“The guy was mad at me, thinking it was a joke,” Wood said of one of the residents.
When Wood’s mother, Sarah, arrived at the scene along with other parents, he said he “lost it.” So did Harrison.
“I kept it together to get everyone out of the house, and then I lost my mind,” Harrison said.
Perez-Thiessen said her daughter put on a brave face at the fire scene.
“Karsyn broke down when we got home,” Perez-Thiessen said. “Everyone was crying all night.”
CONFIDENCE AND NIGHTMARES
About 10 parents were gathered in the restaurant that evening when Harrison called her mother to tell her of the fire.
“I have never seen that many firetrucks in my life,” Perez-Thiessen said. “The entire house was involved in flames.”
“There were 11 kids in the house,” Perez’s step-father Aaron Thiessen said. “Every one of them made it out. No injuries, not even scratches.”
The parents say the most impressive aspect of the fire aside from their kids’ lives being saved is how clear-headed their children were.
“Adults would have panicked,” Thiessen said.
“We called 911 from the restaurant and we told them there are only nine kids in the house,” Sarah Wood said. “So for us to hear that there were 11 … we were wrong.”
Thiessen said Wood and his step-daughter saved Harrison’s life when they held her back.
“If they didn’t do that, Trinity wouldn’t be here,” Thiessen said. “If they didn’t do a head-count, Jayda wouldn’t be here.”
Wood’s parents look at their son in a new light.
“He’s mine and my husband’s hero,” his mother said. “He carried my girls down the stairs.”
Traumatic as the event was, the teens have a new sense of confidence.
“I just baby-sat some family friends Friday, and I thought, ‘I’ve been through that, so I’m prepared’,” Perez said.
“We all feel like we became closer as friends,” Wood said. “We feel like a family.”
Harrison has been staying with the Perez-Thiessen family since the fire. Her family is moving to Texas this week.
There were 11 kids in the house. Every one of them made it out. No injuries, not even scratches.
All of the 11 kids are still processing memories of the fire in different ways.
“They remember everything,” Sarah Wood said. “Most of the littles, it took a while for them to speak about the fire itself.”
Her youngest daughter is focused on the lost dogs.
Wood said he couldn’t sleep for the first three weeks following the fire.
“I still can’t sleep through the night,” Harrison said. “I wake up in the middle of the night in terror.”
The teens say they are slowly getting better.
Wood’s sisters Julianna, 12, and Gabriella, 6, now have more than just a big brother.
“He’s our hero,” Julianna said.
“He’s my hero,” Gabriella said as her brother held her in his arms.