The tables were out, tents up, balloons in the air, and Antonina Rose Barry was shaving ice in the backyard in preparation for her sister Gia's eighth grade graduation party Saturday. Suddenly, her friend Molly Daly glanced over at the house next door on Violet Street in Massapequa Park and said: "Oh, is that normal?"
This was just before 2:30 p.m. and as Barry, 19, recalled Tuesday: "It wasn't even a big fire yet, just under the awning. I don't know, but I just started yelling, 'Fire! Fire!'"
What happened next was a blur.
Barry ran through her house, out the front door, trying to run into her neighbor's yard. The fire stopped her. She ran to the front door, went to bang on it, then decided to grab the handle, instead — running inside and straight into neighbor James Zanelotti, 16. She was barefoot, having taken off her sandals, wet from the ice.
"He didn't have any idea why I was screaming," she said. "So I was like, 'Fire! Fire! Your house is on fire, we have to go!"
Nassau County fire officials said it was the quick actions of Barry and boyfriend Daniel Shea, 19, that evacuated neighbor Joann Russell, her grandsons Ryan and James Zanelotti, and a black lab named Mia moments before a backyard propane tank exploded, causing a multiple-alarm blaze that gutted the house Saturday. Carrie Klipera, who lived in the home with her mother, husband and five children, said Tuesday: "It's a miracle nobody died. It could've been so much worse."
South Farmingdale Fire Department Deputy Chief Michael Mackie, the incident commander, said of Barry: "She's literally one of the bravest people I've ever met, taking it upon herself to help out like that. Those two kids saved three people in that house … A lot of people would've stood around. These kids took it upon themselves to do something. It would've been a completely different situation if they hadn't."
As James and his brother Ryan, 21, helped with their grandmother, Barry continued on.
She ran through the house and onto the rear deck to find the dog, Mia, huddled in a corner. Barry is 5 feet tall. The black lab was frightened — and a handful. "The dog was trapped," she said, "and I was fighting her, trying to get her, the fire all around, and all of a sudden my boyfriend came running out and helped grab her."
Shea had been busy calling 911 and now he helped Barry pull the dog off the deck, the two running inside to continue with the evacuation.
And then the propane tank blew.
"The firefighters told us that another 15-30 seconds we would've been trapped," Barry said.
Maybe, officials told Newsday, even seriously injured — or killed.
Officials from the Nassau County Fire Marshals Fire Investigations Division said the cause of the blaze, which gutted the home, is under investigation — but said Tuesday the fire appears to be "non-suspicious." They confirmed the quick actions of Barry, who goes by Nina, and her boyfriend saved the day.
As South Farmingdale Chief of Department Christopher Klein wrote in a social media post about the incident: "Although we do not advocate running into burning buildings, we cannot help but acknowledge and congratulate Antonina Rose Barry and Danny Shea for their outstanding actions of bravery."
South Farmingdale Fire officials have already nominated the teens for an annual civilian award given by the Nassau County Fire Commission.
"I wasn't thinking at all," Barry said Tuesday. "It wasn't scary, because your adrenaline is pumping and you have tunnel vision. It wasn't until it was over and my adrenaline dropped that I didn't know if I was going to throw up or pass out."
The fire was reported in a 911 call at 2:28 p.m., with firefighters from South Farmingdale, North Massapequa, Massapequa and Farmingdale arriving to find the home fully engulfed, the exploded propane tank having blown a fireball into the home. Additional firefighters came from Plainview, Wantagh, Bethpage, Hicksville, Westbury, Levittown, Syosset and two departments from Suffolk.
Once outside, Barry watched as fire trucks and police cars began to arrive, a maze of people running, setting up hoses — all as burning cinders fell onto a car in the driveway. Onlookers were afraid her house might catch fire, Barry said, though the responding firefighters were able to make sure that didn't happen.
Klipera, who had been at a memorial service with her husband and a son, arrived at the scene to find the house destroyed. As she said: "We are extremely grateful for her. Our community has surrounded us with so much love … the firefighters, the police department. We're just really grateful for everybody. This could have gone wrong in so many different ways … We definitely had an angel looking over us."
Barry has even set up a GoFundMe page titled "The Zanelotti & Klipera Family Rebuild." As of Tuesday evening, it had raised more than $59,000.
"I don't feel like a hero," Barry said. "We don't feel like heroes. I just feel like it's something anybody would've done, helping your neighbors, and I can't picture doing anything different. If it happened again tomorrow I would've done the same thing."