When he saw his neighbor’s home on fire, Kaiden, 17, didn’t hesitate

LAKE STEVENS — Melody Mulneaux-Thomas says she can’t keep metal around, not even tent stakes.

Her 17-year-old grandson, Kaiden Porter-Foy, is a self-taught blacksmith with a homemade forge. He makes jewelry, wind chimes and decorative knives, all from items he finds around the house, including the old silverware. He made himself a necklace with a pendant that he etched with a Viking symbol for fire.

He wonders if the necklace is what kept him safe that night in August, when he pulled his neighbor from her burning home.

Police allege that Gigi Hays, 54, was trying to commit suicide when she set her mobile home on fire. Kaiden was watching TV in his bedroom. It was late Aug. 7 or in the early hours of Aug. 8. He heard popping sounds, looked outside and saw the neighbor’s house was glowing. He woke up his grandparents, put on his jeans, a flannel shirt and combat boots, and ran toward the fire.

“I didn’t even put socks on,” he said.

The flames lit up the night. He tried to open the neighbors’ front door but was struck by “a wave of pure heat,” he said. As he moved toward the back of the house, the windows were shattering.

Another neighbor, standing nearby, told him someone was inside.

Kaiden looked through a window and saw a woman leaning up against a washer and dryer. She had something red in her hands. A gas can. The back door was locked. He kicked it down. He could see puddles of gasoline. He grabbed the can from the woman and threw it away from them. It exploded.

“It was just a room of flame,” he said. “There was no seeing furniture. It was just her and me.”

The woman told Kaiden to leave her alone, and let her die. As he carried her out the back door, she was thumping on his back in protest, “struggling and fighting and pushing on me,” he said.

Back outside, the aluminum roofing over the patio was collapsing onto his head. Kaiden found himself blocked by a waist-high white picket fence. The gate wouldn’t work. He kicked it down.

It all transpired in maybe 30 seconds, but it felt like forever, he said. He remembers knowing that he had to make choices, and quickly.

“There was no time for thinking,” he said.

He carried the struggling woman to his grandparents, who restrained her as he ran back toward the house. He wanted to make sure no one else was trapped.

“It was too fire-engulfed for me to go back in there,” he said.

His grandma told him that decision was his smarts overcoming his strength.

Gigi Hays is charged with first-degree arson. Police weren’t notified when she was released from the hospital. She was a no-show in court Wednesday, and the judge issued a $500,000 warrant.

Meanwhile, Kaiden says he’s glad he took a shower not long before the fire. The dampness might have helped protect his skin and long blonde hair. The fire left holes in his shirt and boots. His belt buckle absorbed so much heat it burned his stomach.

Lake Stevens police Sgt. Craig Valvick recognized Kaiden at the scene. In a small-world moment, the sergeant had seen the teen at a pool in Arlington a few days earlier, where he’d taken his daughter to swim.

The investigators listened in amazement as Kaiden told his story — humbly, calmly, coolly, Valvick said.

“He was very composed for having literally just ran into a fire and saved somebody,” Valvick said. “We were like, wow, that’s amazing, a young kid like that who had the fortitude to run into a burning house and not only save somebody but to look for them and get them out.”

In a later interview, Lake Stevens detective Dean Thomas told Kaiden the rescue was brave, but dangerous. Thomas told him he had a talent for saving people, and to think about becoming a first responder.

Kaiden’s grandparents, Melody and Wayne Thomas, have lived in Lake Stevens’ Cardinal Estates mobile home park for 20 years. They bought the place, planning to be snowbirds, before they found out they’d be raising Kaiden and his younger sister, Korissa.

Melody had heard horror stories about raising teens in these times, she said, but Kaiden has surprised her, not just with his inventiveness and his independence, but also in the thoughtful and respectful way he treats those around him.

Grandpa’s not so surprised, seeing as how Kaiden has undergone a little something he calls “Grandma’s raising.”

A junior at Lake Stevens High School, Kaiden spends half the school day learning welding at the Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center. Grandma tells him he has to find a welding job that’s not too dangerous.

After the fire, it took her a while to get over her fear and shock and to be proud of Kaiden, she said. She was mad and scared “for a good day or two,” Kaiden said.

She wants to be proud of him, she told him, but maybe next time, “let’s do it with grades or something.”

Kaiden still has nightmares about the fire, that he got trapped or that he stood by as someone screamed and died.

He says he was “bull-headed” that night, but he likes to think he did what people need to do. He sees now how easily a life can be taken.

People used to tell his grandma that she should have put Kaiden in sports when he was younger. Even then, though, Kaiden was happiest heading off into the woods with a big stick or a fishing pole, she said. As a boy, he started working with metal by hammering nails into sword shapes for his action figures. To learn to be a blacksmith, he read books and watched videos on YouTube.

Kaiden keeps a makeshift workshop in Grandpa’s shed, where a Kurt Cobain biography can be seen lying on the bench. Nearby is his backyard forge, made from an old barbecue. The forge is fed oxygen from a Kaiden-designed contraption that combines a leaf blower, a glove, rubber hose, zip ties and duct tape.

On Tuesday night, his grandmother looked around at all of Kaiden’s projects.

“Someday he’ll have a real workshop,” she said.

Kaiden told her: “One day, it will be pretty, but not today.”

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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