Opening his bedroom door early Sunday, Matthew Haggerty found the lights in the upstairs hall of his Eagan townhouse didn't work and the whole house was filled with smoke.
Coughing, he closed his door and began yelling for his two roommates to wake up. Smoke detectors sounded and Haggerty, 30, pounded on the wall separating him from roommate Roger Yarusso's bedroom in the house at 1527 Aspen Dr.
"I thought I heard him [Roger] say 'Help.' I got my window open, kicked out the screen and jumped out,'' he said from a hospital bed where he was recovering Sunday night.
Haggerty said he tried to get a ladder up to the window but was hobbled by what turned out to be a broken left foot suffered in his jump. He then tried getting in through the front door with a doormat for protection, but the flames drove him back, burned his right arm, ears and face and singed much of his hair.
He also pounded on the doors of neighbors, one of whom called 911.
It was too late for Yarusso, 33, however, whom firefighters found dead in his second-floor bedroom after arriving minutes later at 6:23 a.m.
Another roommate Alan Marty, 58, Haggerty's uncle, escaped through his bedroom window on the north side of the home. He fell face first about a dozen feet onto the wooden steps below, breaking his nose and ribs, Haggerty said.
The two survivors were taken by ambulance to Regions Hospital in St. Paul for treatment and evaluation, said Sgt. Brad Ramthun. Haggerty was in good condition, and Marty in serious condition Sunday evening, said a hospital spokeswoman.
Thor Yarusso, 32, said Sunday afternoon that he had been calling his brother all day Sunday but nobody answered. Finally he drove to the charred townhouse and learned of the fatal fire. He said a small group of friends had celebrated Roger Yarusso's 33rd birthday in the townhouse the night before.
"He was the best brother you could ever have. I was just with him last night. He was so happy about his three kids," Yarusso said.
Tears welled up as Yarusso stood amid a stand of leafless trees, some frosted from fire hose spray, looking up at the huge black hole where his brother's bedroom window had been. Standing in the 10-degree temperatures, he spoke on his cell phone, relaying the terrible news to his parents.
Yarusso said that he, his brother and Haggerty had attended Park High School together in Cottage Grove. His brother was laid off from his call center job and "was on the road to homelessness" when Haggerty took him in, letting him do odd jobs in place of rent, Yarusso said.
"Matt changed my brother's life," Yarusso said. "He showed him how to get a job and save money."
The townhouse, part of a four-plex, was in flames with heavy smoke when police arrived at 6:17 a.m. Haggerty told police Yarusso was still trapped inside.
Haggerty said he thinks the fire started in the first-floor living room. The cause is under investigation by Eagan and state fire marshals. Yarusso's autopsy will be performed by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner.
The other three townhouses, one of which was vacant, sustained smoke and water damage. A family of three was evacuated from one unit, and a man was evacuated from another townhouse. None of the people were injured and they stayed with neighbors in the area, police said.
Jim Adams • 952-746-3283