CANARYVILLE — Matthew Kara stopped firefighters as they walked away from a row of burned homes in the 4400 block of South Union Avenue Saturday.
"Thank you," Kara said with an outstretched hand. "Thank you."
Kara, 16, was one of several Canaryville residents who woke up Saturday morning to find fire spreading through their homes.
The blaze erupted about 10 a.m. on the back porch of the home at 4425 South Union Avenue, Chicago Fire Department officials said. It quickly spread to three other two-story homes at 4421, 4423 and 4427 S. Union Ave., officials said.
The cause of the fire was still under investigation as of Saturday afternoon.
Kara said he and his cousin were trapped in his room on the second floor of one of the homes. He said a friend came and kicked his door down so he could escape.
"We came out back to see the fire, my eyebrows almost burned off," Kara said. "Smoke came in my face."
Firefighters were able to put out the blaze by 11:20 a.m., officials said. Kara stood with another affected neighbor and surveyed the damage Saturday afternoon.
"These people don't even have home insurance," Kara said pointing to one scorched home. "Their house just got remodeled."
A firefighter walked up to his neighbor and handed him a cat wrapped in a white blanket. It got caught in the fire and had died.
"I'm sorry," the firefighter said to the teary-eyed neighbor.
A few pets died in the blaze, neighbors said, but no people were seriously injured, and fire officials credited, in part, 12-year-old Edwin Perez for that.
Perez saw the flames outside his kitchen window and ran to four homes on the block warning people. On Saturday, fire officials awarded the boy two medals.
Megan Lukesh, who lived in the same home as Kara, also give some credit to neighbors. She said two men walking by Saturday morning helped some children escape from one of the homes.
Lukesh stood with friends Saturday as she talked about the damage done to her home by the fire.
"Oh, it's gone," she said. "We lost everything."
Lukesh said the blaze spread quickly, saying it seemed "everything just went up in two seconds."
"Just like that," she said. "In a matter of 10 minutes, our house caught it."
But despite the loss of her home, Lukesh was smiling Saturday, and she credits her neighbors for that.
"This is when Canaryville should be spotlighted, right now," she said. "This is a tragedy for these four or five houses, but the neighborhood all comes together."
Lukesh, who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years, said she had received dozens of calls from neighbors offering their homes or anything her family might need. She said the local church was taking donation for the fire victims.
"It's awesome. Awesome, you know. They're always there when you need 'em," Lukesh said of her neighbors.
Stephanie Boyd, Lukesh's friend who came to offer support, echoed the sentiment, saying: "Canaryville sticks together."
Crowds of neighbors watched from the street as firefighters worked the scene Saturday.
Christine Campos, who lives a few doors down from the affected homes, said she relayed information to firefighters about who lived in each home as they fought the blaze. She said she was just glad nobody got hurt in the blaze and said the concern neighbors showed was nothing new in the neighborhood.
"We look out for each other," Campos said. "We're like one, humongous family."