By Doug Ireland
---- — DERRY — It’s not often that Nathaniel Mejia feels so sick he has to leave school early.
But that’s what happened March 5 and the 15-year-old and his family are glad it did.
If the Pinkerton Academy sophomore hadn’t gone home early because of flu symptoms, his family’s Belmont Terrace home might not be standing.
The quick-thinking teen was home alone when a fire broke out in his family’s kitchen, filling the two-story home with thick, choking smoke and sending flames to the ceiling.
Nathaniel, who had just awakened and was taking a shower, heard smoke detectors throughout the house, repeatedly say, “Fire, fire, fire.”
He rushed downstairs through the smoke, grabbed a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and knocked down the flames.
The aspiring engineer, battling his way through the smoke, covered his face with a towel and opened all the windows to air out the house. He then quickly evacuated the family’s three dogs, which were barking and crying, he said.
“I came down and saw a big fire on the stove,” Nathaniel said. “I was in shock. I was scared.”
But he quickly overcame that fear and the rest was automatic, doing what he could to save his family’s home and pets.
Nathaniel, a three-sport athlete and one of five sons, would usually still be at school at that time. His parents said if he had not been home, the house would have been destroyed.
But his mother picked him up at school about 11:45 a.m. because he wasn’t feeling well. She had left the house only minutes earlier to pick up two of her sons from school when the fire started shortly after 3 p.m.
Carmen Mejia came home to see smoke coming from the second floor and called 911, but was relieved her son was OK. Firefighters arrived minutes later to douse the charred kitchen with water.
“When I saw the smoke coming from the second-floor balcony, I wanted to die,” she said. “I said, ‘What if he was sleeping?’ We are blessed that he was here.”
Edwin Mejia was driving home when Nathaniel called him about the fire, which has been linked to a malfunctioning fan in the hood over the stove, according to Battalion Chief Jack Webb of the Derry Fire Department.
“He saved the house, I’m very proud of him,” Edwin Mejia said. “He happened to be in the right place.”
The family, who moved from Lawrence seven months ago, will be living in a hotel while their home is repaired, he said.
Webb praised the boy as well.
“The Derry Fire Department would like to commend Nathaniel Mejia for his quick action and his parents, Edwin and Carmen Mejia, for providing a home that includes working smoke detectors and an extinguisher,” he said in a statement.
Nathaniel said his father taught him how to use a fire extinguisher when he was young, and that his parents taught him and his brothers about the importance of fire safety. The teen said he also learned in school what to do when a fire breaks out at home.