UPDATE: Neighbors Start Relief Effort for Fire Victims

The neighbor who alerted residents that their home was on fire is now leading efforts to help out two families displaced by the devastating blaze.

Neighbors have started a relief effort for two families displaced when a fire devastated their two-story home in the 11000 block of Daniel Trail in Mokena Wednesday night.

“It’s neighbors helping neighbors,” said David Podkul, a teacher and part-time police officer in Manhattan who alerted residents that the home was on fire, and with his wife, Cheryl, helped them escape to safety.

A mother and older daughter were saved from the upper level home and a father, mother, daughter and dog were evacuated safely from the lower level, Podkul said.

 “We are looking for adult male and female clothes, gift cards for grocery stores and restaurants and monetary donations,” Podkul said.

For information or to donate, call Cheryl Podkul at 708-359-8571.

Podkul, a golf coach at Stagg High School in Palos Hills, said he was going to his car to work on a golf club for one of his students when he noticed what he thought were fireworks.

“Then I saw that the house two doors down from me was on fire,” he said. “I called to my wife and then ran to the house.”

Podkul alerted the mother and daughter living in the upper level of the home while his wife alerted the family living in the lower level.

“I just tried to do the right thing,” he said. “I thought a young girl who was friends with my kids was still living there. That’s what was going through my head when I ran down there.”

It turns out that Podkul and Gary, Peggy and Jennifer Westling, the family from the home’s lower level, all are members of Parkview Christian Church in Orland Park.

“I knew of them but didn’t know them,” Podkul said.

Jackie Miller, another member of Parkview Church, is in a church group with Peggy Westling.

“Our group will be collecting to help the family,” she said.

The home suffered extensive damage and is uninhabitable, said Mokena Fire Chief Howard Stephens.

“Investigators are calling it an accidental fire,” Stephens said. “It started on the outside of the home on the east wall and quickly spread to the attic and roof.”

He praised Podkul’s quick response.

“If (Podkul) hadn’t alerted them to the fire, there might have been a different outcome,” he said.

“I understand that a lot of things that could not be replaced, like photos, were saved,” he said. “The fire engulfed the east side of the house and the roof was extremely damaged. The inside suffered a lot of smoke and water damage.”

Stephens said the Westlings spent the night with another daughter in New Lenox. He didn’t know anything about the second family.

Firefighters from Frankfort, New Lenox, Tinley Park and Orland Park assisted, Stephens said.

No residents or firefighters were injured, according to Stephens.

The Westling family did not return calls.

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