A QUICK-thinking window cleaner saved two young children and their mother from their burning Halesowen home after an arsonist set fire to the front door.
David Burford was hailed a hero after climbing his ladder to smash a back bedroom window and rescue terrified mum Catherine Keenan-Williams, her three-year-old son and daughter, aged five, shortly after 1am today.
The desperate screams of the 36-year-old woke the neighbourhood after she discovered her hall ablaze and thick acrid smoke filling her Elizabeth Road home.
She plucked the children from their beds and took refuge in her bedroom, pushing a pillow against the bottom of the door and shouting for help through the window.
Among those who heard her cries was sister Susan Keenan, who lives with their retired parents Norman and Elizabeth Keenan, in neighbouring High Farm Road.
“Her garden backs onto ours - I heard her screaming and saw her hanging out of the bedroom window,” said Miss Keenan.
She dashed to wake her parents and rang the fire service while Mr and Mrs Keenan ran to their daughter’s aid.
Next door neighbour Mr Burford kicked down the side gate and shouted to his son Josh to fetch the ladders.
“It’s all a bit of a blur. The kids were calm but the mum was hysterical,” said the 44-year-old reluctant hero.
Child safety locks on the window meant he had to break the glass with his fist and managed to get the youngest child out.
“I shouted down for a hammer to break more of the window and she gave me a slat from the bed to help, but the smoke was coming in and I thought I just had to get then out,” said.
He added: “Everyone was really shocked. Her dad was in a world of his own. He looked helpless - he wasn’t - he moved stuff out of the way so I could put the ladder up, but it was just how he looked.”
Fighting back the tears Miss Keenan said: “I feel very sickened by what happened. It’s the worst criminal act you could ever do, particularly if the person who did it knew there were kids in the house.
“They are vile and sick and should be sent down for the longest time.”
Her sister’s oldest son, aged seven, was staying the night with his grandparents and aunt and Miss Keenan said the children did not really understand what had happened.
Their council house has been severely damaged by smoke and they have lost many of their possessions, but friends have been quick to rally with replacement clothes for the family.
Miss Keenan said: “We couldn’t have asked for a better neighbourhood and the neighbour who rescued them needs to be thanked, he was a star. All the people were fantastic.”
Mr Burford cut his hand on the broken window, but did not need hospital treatment.
His son Josh, aged 20, said: He was brilliant - there are not many people who can say they saved three people from a house fire. He just got on with it.”
Ms Keenan-Williams and the two children were treated in hospital for smoke inhalation but were not seriously hurt and firefighters rescued their pet dog, which was unharmed.
A 36-year-old man was arrested from another address in Halesowen a short while later and is being questioned on suspicion of arson with intent to endanger life.
Detective Inspector Gary Dring said: "We could easily have been dealing this morning with the tragic deaths of two young children, but thankfully they were pulled from the house before the fire was able to really take hold. They are lucky to be alive.”
He appealed for witnesses or anyone with information to call Dudley Police on 101 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555111.