Marine saves three from Lancaster house fire; fourth found dead
December 28, 2002
LANCASTER, Calif. — A Marine home for Christmas heard cries for help early Friday and saved a neighbor man and his two daughters from a house fire, but flames prevented him from rescuing the girls’ mother.
The body of the mother was found in a bathroom, said Inspector Kurt Schaefer of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. The woman was later identified as Luz Zepeda, 45, by her son, Jesus Zepeda Jr.
Jesus Zepeda Sr. and his two daughters, ages 14 and 12, were treated at a hospital.
The blaze erupted about 3 a.m. in the kitchen of the two-story home.
Marine Cpl. Arlen Traster, 26, who was visiting his parents on the same block, was packing his truck to return to Camp Pendleton when he heard one of the girls crying for help from atop the roof of the burning home.
Traster helped 14-year-old Evelyn slide down the roof to safety.
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“I was just trying to help so I went to the front door and smoke was coming out,” Traster said. “I went up the stairwell and was yelling for everybody when I heard a man’s voice and told him to follow me.”
Overcome by smoke, the Marine rushed outside and the father followed him.
By then a second daughter, 12-year-old Janete, was also on the roof of the house.
Traster got a ladder from his parent’s home two doors down and helped the second daughter off the roof.
“The father said the wife was still in the house but when I tried to get in, it was engulfed in flames,” he said.
It took 20 firefighters more than a half-hour to put out the fire.
Lancaster is about 40 miles northeast of Los Angeles.