Woman jumps into action to save baby as fire breaks out at Portsmouth home

Posted at 1:32 PM, Jul 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-24 16:40:49-04

PORTSMOUTH, Va. - A one-year-old baby and his 16-year-old brother are recovering in the hospital with serious burn injuries after their home on Wall Street in Portsmouth broke out in flames Friday morning.

There were other children inside the home at the time. Firefighters say they were treated at local hospitals and released that afternoon.

Fire officials initially said four people were inside the home, but later said a total of five minors were in the home when the fire started and filled the house with smoke.

Neighbors told News 3 that four of the children were inside the house and the fifth sibling was playing outside around the block at the time.

Erica Barner ran out to the chaotic scene.

She said she saw heavy smoke and flames coming from the home as she was next door visiting her best friend.

A loud noise alerted them to the fire.

“It almost sounded like someone taking a brick or something and hitting it against something,” Barner said. “It was like a POP or a BANG.”

Barner and her friend called 911 and immediately ran out to help.

She says four kids were inside sleeping, including a one-year-old baby. They managed to escape from the back of the home where the flames were quickly spreading.

“We saw them coming out of the back end of the house, just burned,” Barner said. “The oldest was completely…you see skin coming off the oldest, screaming. You see the baby burned, not really making any noise. “It stopped breathing, so his eyes rolled back. That was a lot. I’m sorry.”

Without hesitation, Barner gave the baby boy mouth to mouth to get him breathing on his own again.

“I dug my fingers in his nose, took all the smut out, went in his mouth and cleaned the smut out with rags and breathed into his mouth,” Barner said. “I shook him, pinched him. I just wanted to hear something, so I kept pinching him. I kept hitting his back, wiggling his arms, and I saw his eyes open. He was whining; it was a small sound, but it was good enough for me.”

Portsmouth Fire Rescue and Emergency Services arrived on the scene a short time later around 11:30 a.m.

Firefighters said they saw black smoke at the scene coming from the back of the house. At that point firefighters "simultaneously began searching for victims while making a quick, aggressive interior attack on the fire," according to a spokesperson.

Barner told News 3 that the baby and his 16-year-old brother were both badly burned, but the other two children, two girls aged 10 and seven, were not hurt.

The 16-year-old was babysitting his siblings. The mom wasn’t home at the time.

“I’m just a stranger and I’m going through an emotional roller coaster right now,” said Barner. “I can only imagine how she feels.”

Inside the home, the walls were filled with soot.

The house was later condemned. A notice posted to the window said it was unsafe to live in.

Barner, a mother of three sons herself, said she’s not a hero.

“I consider myself a mom and I’m doing what I’m supposed to do,” she said. “I would only hope any human being would do the same thing without question.”

Several other neighbors came together to help this family. One neighbor who saw the flames called another neighbor who cut the power off to the house.

By Friday evening, fire officials had determined the cause of the fire. Fire marshals said the fire was accidental and due to an electrical short.

There was a smoke detector inside the home, but the smoke detector did not alert the occupants. Red Cross is providing support to the family.