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Did Deputies Fib About Fire Heroics?

Firefighters and a neighbor dispute claims that two sheriff's deputies put out a house blaze and rescued a woman and three pets earlier this month.

Two weeks ago, two deputies were praised as heroes for extinguishing a house fire on Via Burgos. But on Friday, information from firefighters and a next-door neighbor suggest police exaggerated their role in the blaze.

Two weeks ago, after flames engulfed a couch, curtains and back wall at 27231 Via Burgos, two sheriff's and rescued a woman and three dogs.

On Friday, firefighters and a neighbor disputed those claims.

Deputies Tobin Anderson and Adam Sandler only put out the couch fire, said Orange County Fire Authority spokesman Marc Stone. Although deputies insisted firefighters arrived after "deputies had put out the house fire," Stone said "the main body of fire that was still active upon OCFA’s arrival was extinguished by fire crews."

Stone's version of events was corroborated by a neighbor, who spoke on condition of anonymity. According to the neighbor, a slender brunette woman also put out the back wall portion of the blaze with a garden hose.

"The lady with the hose had already put the flames out in the living room on the back wall" when deputies arrived, the neighbor said.

Neighbors also disputed the deputies' claim that they saved the woman and rescued three dogs from the backyard.

In reality, two unidentified passers-by acted to save the home and pets before deputies arrived, neighbors agreed.

A man driving by on a motorcycle wrapped his shirt over his face and kicked in the front door to see if anyone was inside, one neighbor said.

“It was people in the neighborhood just helping out," the neighbor said.

According to the deputies, the woman putting out the flames with a garden hose was grabbed by the deputies and taken to safety. Not so, said a next-door neighbor, who said the deputies simply stood outside and told her to come out of the home.

"The Mission Viejo police department ordered her three times to get out of the house," the neighbor said. "And she started to get up. She was coughing when she came out of the house."

As for the dogs, although the deputies played a role in removing the pets from the property, it was a passer-by who corraled the canines into the garage away from the fire, and another neighbor who helped round them up and bring them into her yard, the neighbor said.

"Nobody was interested in being a hero. We were just interested in saving a house and animals, and if someone was in there."

However, Lt. Chris Wilson, chief of police services for Mission Viejo, defended the deputies and their story.

"They reeked of smoke," Wilson said. "They were both treated for smoke inhalation. The character of the two deputies involved I don't question."

When asked how that squared with the version of events relayed by firefighters and neighbors, Wilson said: "There's two sides to every coin. Two people can see the same thing different."

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