Thanh Nguyen patted his chest as he looked toward his York City home, where smoke rose from the roof before disappearing in the sky.

"My heart is jumping," he said. "I got out. Hallelujah."

Shortly before 6 p.m. Monday, city firefighters were dispatched to battle flames at 512, 514 and 516 N. Pershing Ave. Smoke from the second-alarm fire poured out of the roofs of the three three-story houses.

The houses at 512 and 514 were vacant, said fire chief David Michaels. No one was injured, he said.

A fire marshal has been called to help determine the fire's cause, starting place and damage estimate, Michaels said. He added that his department is trying to save Nguyen's home at 516, where there is damage mainly to the second and third floor.

The family cannot stay in the house now because of the fire damage. The York-Adams Chapter of the American Red Cross was called to the scene to assist the Nguyen family, Michaels said.

Nguyen said he and his family will stay with his sister for now.

Nguyen, who is married, said he did not know his house was on fire as he and his two children - a 3-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son - watched television.

"A neighbor (banged) on the door," Nguyen. "He was yelling, 'You got to get out of here. Your house is on fire!'" and he was calling 911. He helped me get the kids out. He's a good guy."

The neighbor, Vincent DeShields - who lives several doors away - said he smelled smoke in his house, but something told him to look outside, and that's when he saw smoke coming from Nguyen's roof.

"I'm just glad they got out," DeShields said. "They didn't know anything was going on."

Ryanne Ness, who lives on nearby Juniper Street, said she co-owns the two-bedroom house at 514 with a former boyfriend who no longer lives there. They were considering either renting the house or selling it when the economy got better, she said. "I lived in the house seven years," said Ness, 28. "I was 19 when we got that place. My 7-year-old son learned how to walk in that house. I helped put money into that house. That house meant everything to me, and now it's burned up."

Ness said that when she and her ex-boyfriend moved out of the house, they shut off the gas, electricity and water.

"There was nothing on to start a fire with," she said. "We've been having trouble with kids breaking into the house, and I reported it to police. We don't have homeowner's insurance on the house."

Nguyen said the 514 house was locked up, and he hasn't seen youths getting into the house.

He said he moved into his house more than 20 years ago and has been wanting to move out for several years, but can't afford to do so.

"I just don't like the houses being together like that (especially) when something like this happens."

-Reach Eyana Adah McMillan at