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Teens act quickly to help save residents from burning building

SANTEE, Calif. -- A group of high school students is being praised for stepping in to help save apartment residents from a fire this week.

The blaze started around 6:45 p.m. Thursday at the Santee Villas Apartments in the 10400 block of Mast Boulevard, across the street from Santana High School.

According to fire officials, the blaze started in a downstairs unit and quickly spread to three others. Multiple fire departments were called to help put out the flames.

Jack McMackin, a freshman at Santana High School, said he was at cross country practice when he and his teammates saw and smelled smoke.

“We rounded the corner and came out from the baseball fields. We saw it was the apartments. We kind of panicked a little bit. We’re like, ‘oh shoot it’s the apartments,'” McMackin said.

McMackin and his friend Braxton ran to help get people out of their homes.

“Banging, screaming, 'Get out!' ... then we ran and shot up the stairs. We were banging on those doors (too),” McMackin said. “We got out the man on the bottom, and I think I remember him holding a baby. I got out the elderly gentleman."

McMackin and his friend worked to get surrounding residents to safety, while others tried to get a man out of his burning apartment.

“I tried to talk him out and he’s like ‘No, my dogs, my dogs!’ So I found three bigger guys to come grab him and they came and they got him because the flames all of a sudden got huge ... He kind of stumbled back off the patio, and that’s when they grabbed him and pulled him over the patio,” Melanie Jaracz, a neighbor, said.

The man was taken to the hospital where friends told FOX 5 he is recovering. Unfortunately, his two dogs died in the fire.

People who live at the complex said they are grateful no human lives were lost -- but things could have been different if it had not been for the quick thinking of McMackin and his friends.

“I feel really good because I wanted to help, and I was able to, and I want to help even more now,” McMackin said. “It’s made me realize how quickly things can change for others, and how you need to be there for them,” McMackin said.

Fifteen families were displaced in the fire.

The cause is still under investigation.