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Woman grateful after man saves family from burning St. Paul duplex

Posted by: Nicole Norfleet under People and neighborhoods, Public safety Updated: August 5, 2014 - 2:32 PM

Richard Johann and Vanessa Pryor spoke to the media outside a duplex that caught fire Monday.

Vanessa Pryor stood in front of the burned duplex that used to be her North End home Tuesday afternoon and said she was thankful.

Her sister and 6-month-old niece were able to escape the fire that ravaged the home at 1210 Albemarle St. on Monday night thanks to a man who pulled them from a window.

Pryor, 31, had been at a park with her children when she received a call around 7:30 or 8 p.m. Monday saying that her house was on fire. She went back to the home worried that her younger sister, who had been visiting with her daughter, could be hurt.

"First thing that went through my head is my sister," Pryor said.

When she got to the home, her sister and niece had already been rescued. Other witnesses told her that there had been two boys who had taken lighter fluid and set fire to a couch in the abandoned unit next to her's, Pryor said.

Richard Johann said in a story in Tuesday's Star Tribune that he was standing outside the nearby Tin Cup restaurant when he saw black smoke down the block and realized something was wrong. After he ran to the home, he pushed on the screen of an open window and saw Pryor's sister standing there holding a baby. Johann told her that she had to get out, and the woman handed the baby to him and he handed the baby to his friend. As emergency crews arrived, Johann grabbed the woman and got her out as well, he said.

"I just wanted to see if I could assist in any way," Johann said on Tuesday, as Pryor stood next to him.

Pryor said her sister saw boys sitting on the porch of the duplex and noticed the smell of smoke, but she hadn't realized the seriousness of the fire. She had been in Pryor's bedroom when she was rescued.

"Scary...There's a chance that she could have not made it out of there," Pryor said.

St. Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard said Tuesday that the cause of the fire was still under investigation. A sign on a tree in front of the duplex said that the fire was suspected to be the result of arson and that rewards were available for information leading to the identification of those responsible.

If children started the fire, Pryor said she hopes they are taught a lesson but not placed behind bars.

"They're kids...They don't know better," she said.

Pryor is trying to figure out what she will do next. She wasn't able to recover anything from her home, and she didn't have renter's insurance. She is staying in a hotel for a few days with the help of the Red Cross, but she's not sure what she will do after that.

"I'm still lost right now," she said.

Funds to help Pryor and her family can be deposited at any Wells Fargo Bank by giving her name.

A duplex fire last week in the city was also suspected to be the result of arson. A 16-year-old boy helped save someone from that fire which broke out on St. Paul’s West End on July 21.

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