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Canaryville boy, 12, a hero in face of extra-alarm fire but can’t save family bunny

EdwPerez shows golden badge given him by Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago for alerting neighbors fire helping them evacuate Canaryville blaze.

Edwin Perez shows the golden badge given to him by Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago for alerting neighbors to a fire and helping them evacuate Canaryville blaze. | Maureen O'Donnell - Sun-Times

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Updated: August 15, 2013 7:00AM

A 12-year-old boy was praised as a hero by Chicago firefighters for pounding on doors to evacuate dozens of people in Canaryville whose homes burned in a three-alarm fire Saturday.

Fire Cmsr. Jose Santiago gave young Edwin Perez a golden badge for his bravery, and the fire department plans to formally commend him for his actions.

“What the young man did was unbelievable,” Santiago said. “Only 12 years old, [he] ran in to these houses and was able to get all these people out of here.”

But after the flames were extinguished and the attention died down, it hit young Edwin that the fire may have claimed one casualty: his aunt’s bunny, Shadow. He sat down and quietly cried for the missing pet, which lived in a cage in the family’s home in the 4400 block of South Union.

Firefighters said no one has seen Shadow. The smoke was so strong, they said, it’s doubtful he made it.

“I fear the bunny did not make it,” fire department spokesman Larry Langford said. “He was not spotted in the searches.”

As many as 50 people were displaced from the four homes on Edwin’s block that burned in the 3-11 alarm blaze, but no one was hurt.

And Edwin deserves the credit for that, according to Santiago and Langford. He spotted flames through his back window, alerted his family, then ran to neighbors’ houses, banging on doors and yelling for people to wake up.

“That was a major reason for nobody getting hurt,” said Langford.

Edwin, who soon will seventh grade, said he was scared but remembered the fire safety tips he learned at Alexander Graham Bell elementary school.

“I heard a sound, a cracking sound from a window, then I saw, almost through the window, a big fire — a big fire on the sofa — and I got really scared,” he said. “My sister did not want to wake up. I just grabbed her from the bed. I shouted, ‘Wake up!’ ’’

Then, he ran to his neighbors’ homes, “knocking on people’s houses really hard. They couldn’t hear me, so I just screamed, ‘Hey, wake up!’ And they woke up, and they said, ‘What’s happening?’ And I said, ‘There’s a big fire!’ So they just came running, and they started crying.”

“He was pounding on the door,” said Jose Villarreal, who ran from his home at 4427 S. Union thanks to Edwin. “He was pounding and pounding on the doors.”

Edwin’s father, Luis, 37, who is from Mexico City, works in a factory, making brakes for cars. He was in tears, saying he needed to talk with his landlord and try to figure out where his family could stay.

It wasn’t clear what caused the fire, which began on a rear porch at 4425 S. Union, Langford said. By the time the first firefighters arrived, three homes already were on fire. It spread so quickly because the old frame buildings on the block were built close together, said Assistant Deputy Fire Commissioner Mark Nielsen. As many as 130 firefighters worked to bring the fire under control.

Contributing: Becky Schlikerman, James Scalzitti

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