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Passerby drags Cambridge, Minn., man from fire before oxygen tanks blow up

CAMBRIDGE, Minn. — Oxygen tanks shot like missiles out of a burning mobile home in Cambridge, soon after an 86-year-old resident was pulled to safety on Saturday.

A man visiting in the neighborhood, Tom Simon, raced into the burning house and dragged Phillip Virkus outside before firefighters arrived on the scene at 8:55 a.m.

“It’s not that often you see somebody risk their life for anybody else,” said Capt. Corey Bustrom, who saw flames shooting from the house about 50 miles north of Minneapolis and soon discovered nine oxygen tanks were inside.

The first one, “real hot and real fast,” crashed through the roof and landed on a neighbor’s house. After firefighters ran behind a tree, a second oxygen tank flew through the living room window near where they had been standing.

“There was a high-pitched whistle, a boom and they went flying,” Bustrom said. “It was pretty intense for a bit.”

Virkus didn’t appear seriously injured, Bustrom said, which he attributed to Simon’s quick action.

Simon found Virkus inside the front doorway, gripped him under the arms and pulled him away from the fire, Bustrom said.

Virkus had the tanks for health reasons. Whether they caused the fire remains under investigation, Bustrom said.