Awakened early Thursday when his 7-year-old son climbed into his bed, Pedro Martinez heard someone outside screaming. He poked his head out the door, spotted flames erupting from one of the other apartments at his two-story Metairie fourplex, and rushed to arouse his family.
He, his wife, their two boys and residents of two neighboring units were unharmed as they escaped a building with no functioning smoke alarms.
But Lisle House, 82, and his 56-year-old son Timothy House weren't as fortunate. They died in the first-floor unit where the fire broke out, authorities said.
"It was just luck," Martinez, 56, said in Spanish later Thursday, as he packed up some belongings from the apartment next to the Houses' and prepared to return to the home where his family was taking refuge. "I wouldn't have heard a thing. My son saved us. Thank God."
Update, 10:50 a.m., Thursday: Jefferson Parish Coroner Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich identified the two men found dead after a fire at a Metairie apar…
The deadly blaze in the 700 block of Orion Avenue was reported to the East Bank Consolidated Fire Department just before 3 a.m.
Chief Dave Tibbetts said firefighters had the blaze under control within about a half-hour. But the building had been heavily damaged by smoke and flames, and firefighters were soon told the two men living in the ravaged apartment where the fire started might not have gotten out.
Lisle House was found in the unit's hallway and Timothy House in the kitchen. Firefighters pulled the two men out, but they were pronounced dead from smoke inhalation. A dog that lived with the Houses also died.
Tibbetts said the seven residents in the other three units escaped the fire unharmed. The cause of the blaze remained under investigation.
American Red Cross spokesman Greg Roques said his organization helped at least one family with temporary lodging and was working to determine whether others who were displaced needed assistance.
Louisiana State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said the owners of any apartment buildings with more than two units are required by state law to equip their complexes with some level of smoke detection.
But it was not immediately clear whether the smoke detectors at the site of Thursday's fire weren't functioning due to a lack of maintenance or for other reasons. At least one tenant, living above the Houses' apartment, told WWL-TV that he had unplugged the detector in his unit.
Whatever the case, Lisle House's daughter, Laura DiRosa, said she was having difficulty processing what she described as "the worst day of my life."
DiRosa said her father served in the U.S. Navy and then worked at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, specializing in diabetes and overseeing a chronic disease program in Tampa, Florida. He moved to the New Orleans area from Tampa to be closer to her, she said in a telephone interview.
DiRosa said her father's calling card was to wish good luck to loved ones and acquaintances with the nautical toast, "Fair winds and following seas."
She said Lisle House needed a walker to move around and was also battling macular degeneration, which can cause blindness. "He was going through it — he really was," she said.
Nonetheless, he retained his good humor, she said. "He was a great man, and he was always joking with people."
DiRosa declined to speak about Timothy House, her brother.
At one point Thursday morning, a cab driver named James Laurent stopped in front of the apartment complex and told reporters that he will miss driving Lisle House to the store and his doctor's office on an almost daily basis. Laurent said sometimes he would take House and his dog, Roxy, to the vet.
"I had to come see when I saw this on the news and heard the block where it was," Laurent said.
Public records show that the building damaged in Thursday's fire is owned by a company named Kim Amundson LLC.
A man who lives in a home toward the front of the property where the fourplex sits identified himself as Kim Amundson but described himself as the former landlord, saying he had transferred ownership to someone else he declined to identify.
DiRosa said she understood Amundson's daughter now served as the property's landlord. The daughter couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
WWL-TV and The Associated Press contributed to this report.