TOWANDA - Neal Cretelle of Towanda recalls meeting John D. Yoder II when he moved in around the corner a couple of years ago.

"He came right up to me and said, 'I'm John. I'm your new neighbor.' We really hit it off," recalls Cretelle, 37.

Cretelle said that Yoder, 32, and his wife, Amber, became pretty good friends of his. And Cretelle and John Yoder would borrow each others' tools, which occurred most recently on Thursday night, when Cretelle borrowed a power drill from John Yoder.

The following night, the two would collaborate on another matter, this time a matter of life and death: they tried, unsuccessfully, to save the Yoder's 2-year-old son, John David "J.D." Yoder III, who perished in a fire in the Yoders' house.

Cretelle recalls being woken up late Friday night by his dog, who he said was making "weird noises."

"She was growling and whining and pacing back and forth in through the house," Cretelle said.

Cretelle said that when he woke up, he felt hungry, so he went downstairs to his kitchen to get something to eat.

Looking out of his kitchen window at the rear of his house, he could see the fire at the Yoders' two-story house, which is a couple of homes away from his. The Yoders' carport was totally engulfed in flames at the time, Cretelle said.

Cretelle said he ran out of his house, barefoot and wearing his pajamas.

"I ran outside, yelling John! Amber!" Cretelle said.

He said that as he ran toward the Yoders' house, Amber Yoder, who was carrying her infant son Sawyer Yoder, was coming through his back yard toward his house.

"She was saying, 'Neal! Neal! J.D.'s still in the house!"

Cretelle said he saw John Yoder II near the back of the Yoders' house, who also yelled to Cretelle that his son was still inside the building.

John Yoder II had been throwing rocks to try to break the window of his son's second-story window, but had been missing the window, Cretelle said.

"I said, 'I'll get my ladder!' Cretelle recalled. Cretelle ran back to his house, and then ran back to the Yoders' house with a 24-foot ladder.

Cretelle said that as soon as he leaned the ladder up against the house, John Yoder was already on the first rung of the ladder.

"He went right up the ladder instantly" and broke the window to John Yoder III's bedroom with his fist, Cretelle said.

As soon as he made the hole in the window, which is located toward the back of the house, "smoke came rolling out of the freaking window," Cretelle recalled.

"It (John Yoder's attempt to save his son's life) was the bravest, most courageous thing I've seen. It inspires me," Cretelle said.

Cretelle said that he did not know it at the time, but John Yoder, who had jumped out of his second-story window to save his own life earlier that night, had a broken arm. He also had a lump on his forehead the size of a golf ball, and was bleeding, Cretelle said.

"I think he stuck his head in a couple of times" through the window and put his hand in the window to find his son, but it was too hot, Cretelle said.

It was hot just standing next to the building, and the heat would have been incredibly fierce next to the window, Cretelle said.

"It was an inferno," Cretelle said.

The fire was reported at 11:59 p.m. Friday, Bradford County Coroner Thomas Carman said. John Yoder III was pronounced dead at 1:54 a.m. Saturday, the coroner said.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation by a state police fire marshal, Carman said in a press release that he issued on Monday.

John Yoder II, Amber Yoder, John Yoder III and Sawyer Yoder were asleep when the fire broke out in their home, which is located in the 100 block of North Fourth Street, the coroner said.

John Yoder II, his wife, and Sawyer Yoder all escaped out of a second-story window, the coroner said.

John Yoder III died at the scene while sleeping, as a result of smoke inhalation, the coroner said in his press release.

John Yoder II, his wife, and Sawyer Yoder were all transported by ambulance to Memorial Hospital in Towanda, where they were treated and released, the coroner said.

John Yoder II and Amber Yoder were unsuccessful in trying to retrieve John Yoder III from his bedroom, where he was sleeping, the coroner said. Firefighters discovered John Yoder III in bed, the coroner said.

Amber Yoder did not appear to be injured, so John Yoder II must have lowered her from the second-story window, located toward the front of the house, from which all three escaped, Cretelle said.

John Yoder II dropped Sawyer Yoder down to his wife after she reached the ground, Cretelle said.

After Yoder's wife and Sawyer Yoder were outside, John Yoder made another attempt to reach his 2-year-old son, but could not reach him, due to the fire, according to Cretelle.

John Yoder II, his wife, and Sawyer Yoder are staying with relatives, who are providing them with clothing, said Carmon Flynn, regional executive director for the American Red Cross.

Lisa Watson, who lives next door to the Yoders, said that John and Amber Yoder "are good people."

"He would always offer to help me, even though he didn't have the time to do anything," Watson said.

Watson said she knows what John Yoder II and his wife are going through, because she herself lost two brothers in 1979, when she was 14 years old.

The Yoders will be mourning their son while they try to rebuild their lives, including finding a new home.

"It's horrible," Watson said.

Watson said the loss will always be there.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.