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Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy Edwards, left, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Timothy Vigil, USS Essex shipmates, stand at the India Basin pier at Sasebo Naval Base on Friday. The two helped several Japanese neighbors to safety and tried to rescue two others who died in a house fire in their off-base neighborhood Thursday night.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy Edwards, left, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Timothy Vigil, USS Essex shipmates, stand at the India Basin pier at Sasebo Naval Base on Friday. The two helped several Japanese neighbors to safety and tried to rescue two others who died in a house fire in their off-base neighborhood Thursday night. (Greg Tyler / S&S)

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Two USS Essex shipmates sharing off-base housing helped evacuate Japanese neighbors in a home close to a fire, doused flames in one house and entered another to try to rescue two people later found dead in the Thursday night blaze.

After hearing a Yatake city fire alarm about 7:45 p.m., Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy Edwards, 23, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Timothy Vigil, 20, sprang into action when they saw fire spreading from a two-story house.

The two were credited with alerting three people inside houses in immediate fire danger and escorting four others to safety, according to Lt. Edward Sisk, Amphibious Group 1 spokesman.

Then, using buckets of water from a bathtub in a nearby home, they extinguished a smaller house fire to reach the front entrance of another that was engulfed in flames.

“A neighbor told us there were two people inside the house that was completely on fire,” Edwards said Friday.

He and Vigil tried to locate the residents in the burning house next door but flames forced them to exit, Sisk said.

“When we knew we had to get out, the entrance we used to get inside was blocked,” Edwards said. “So I broke a window and climbed out.”

A Sasebo police official said two bodies believed to be the residents, Mikio Hanano, 68, and his wife Kazuko, 74, were recovered from house. Police are working to confirm the identities of the victims and the cause of the fire.

The sailors said the neighbors expressed their gratitude after the fire was extinguished. “Each person out there shook our hands” and expressed appreciation, Edwards said.

“I feel really sorry for the loss of the two people in our neighborhood, but I think we did all we could,” Vigil said. “The fire was just too intense.”

Stars and Stripes writer Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.

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