'I didn't consider myself a hero,' says 16-year-old who rescued siblings from burning home

Published: Thursday, Dec. 22 2011 6:56 p.m. MST

Devin Whitehead holds his sister, Jessica, on Thursday, December 22, 2011. Devin rescued Jessica and his little brother from their burning home.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

DUCHESNE — Devin Whitehead used his bandaged fingers to tickle his younger siblings Thursday as he recalled getting them out of their house as the smoke and flames quickly filled it.

"At the time, I didn't consider myself being a hero,” the 16-year-old said. “I was just trying to get them out of there."

Devin was home alone Monday night with his 3-year-old sister and 4-year-old brother. He was in his room when 4-year-old Ronnie came in crying.

“I saw that our hallway was in smoke, and I went into our living room and I saw it was in flames,” Devin said. "I was just like, 'I gotta get these kids out of here before something bad happens.'"

He grabbed his screaming sister, Jessica, who was standing by the front door, and took her outside.

Risking his life, Devin went back into the burning home for young Ronnie. He burned his hands when he touched the couch while getting his siblings out of the house.

They all made it out safely with just the clothes on their backs. Ronnie and Jessica were barefoot. Devin, who was wearing a light jacket and socks, carried his siblings half a mile to the nearest road.

"My hands were burning really bad," he said. "So I'd have to bend down and ... put some snow on them."

Devin recalled taking off his jacket and wrapping it around his younger brother. His sister had been able to grab her favorite blanket.

"I said a little prayer with my little brother and my little sister that someone would find us when I got to the end of the road,” the teen recalled Thursday.

His prayer was answered. He saw headlights from a trucking coming toward them. Devin said he ran in the road and waved them down. Two men called 911 and gave them a ride.

The family lives about 11 miles outside of Duchesne. The road leading to the home was icy and snowpacked. It took firefighters 15 to 20 minutes to get to the home, but by then, there was nothing they could do.

“When I got there, the house was already on the ground," Duchesne City Fire Chief Georg Adams said. “It was fully engulfed. That’s why I could see it so far away.”

When the family went back to the house, there was nothing left.

"It was a big relief that my family was safe and that's all that mattered," said Sheila Whitehead, the children's mother.

"I knew everything else can be replaced."

Fire investigators say they may never know what started the fire. The house their father built three years ago is a loss, and the family plans to rebuild it.

For now, they are staying at a motel in the area and will eventually rent a place in the Salt Lake area, where the kids’ father works.

Two funds to help the family have been set up at Mountain America Credit Union, under "David A. Whitehead" and "Sheila Whitehead and Lonnie Stevens."

While they are homeless for the holidays, the family is focusing on what they do have — each other. Devin's hands, which have second-degree burns, will heal. The children weren't hurt at all.

"All I think about is I'm glad I got them out of there and I'm glad they're all OK,” Devin said.

E-mail: syi@ksl.com

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