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CHANCE ENCOUNTER UNITES WOMAN WITH FAMILY'S HERO

Flames already had engulfed the third floor as Newport firefighters pulled up to the house.

Fire Lt. Charlie Deaton heard screams for help and stared at the fire. He doubted anyone could be alive inside. Then he saw a father on the roof of the neighboring house, shielding his two young boys from the heat."I could see in the glow of the flames smoke coming off his clothes," Deaton remembers. "I said, `Lay down, don't jump and DON'T THROW THE KIDS.' "

Theresa Clifton was only 9 that night, 28 years ago.

As her mother ran choking to the second-floor landing, her father grabbed the three girls and tossed them to his wife below.

"He threw my two sisters, and mom caught them," she recalled. "I guess I was too heavy because I hit the wall. . . . I hit the wall so hard I was dizzy.

The three girls and their mother made it outside. Then her father went back into the fire to find his two young sons.

Charlie Deaton and Theresa Clifton didn't meet that night. She knew him only through her mom's repeated story about the firefighter who saved her father's and brothers' lives.

This week, they met by coincidence.

Deaton - now 58, disabled and retired - was making small talk with a nursing assistant at the Garrard Convalescent Home in Covington, Ky., where he lives, when he mentioned he had been a firefighter. She mentioned being in a fire.

When the memories converged, Theresa Clifton, now 37 and named Theresa Boyd, had to run to a restroom to hide her tears.

A newspaper article said the fire started in a gas heater about 2 a.m. Jan. 6, 1968. Theresa Boyd remembers her dad blaming a spark from Christmas tree lights. Regardless of how it started, it spread fast.

By the time Phillip Ray Clifton got his daughters and wife out, flames filled the hall and stairway and he was trapped with his two terrified sons, who had fled to a back bedroom. A big man at 6-foot-3, he grabbed them and ran to a third-story, screened-in porch.

Breaking through the screen, he threw his boys onto the roof of the house next door, just a few feet away. He jumped onto the roof. Together, they waited for help as flames threatened.

Deaton looked up and saw the three figures on the roof, two boys beneath their father's outstretched arms.

With the help of another firefighter, Deaton raised a heavy ladder that usually required three men to raise, and he climbed to the roof and rescued the trio.

Clifton, who was treated for burns to his face and upper body, was the only one hurt.

The story doesn't have a happy ending.

Theresa Boyd's father, the man who had saved his family's lives with quick action, was killed in a two-car collision months later.

Charlie Deaton was a firefighter for eight years until he was seriously hurt at another fire.