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Iowan prayed while saving kids from fire

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 10:44 a.m. CDT

DES MOINES (AP) — A northwest Iowa baby sitter who rescued seven children in her care from a van that filled with smoke and erupted into flames says God and a good Samaritan helped her through the ordeal.

Tara Dekkers, 36, of Ireton, was driving the children, ages 1 through 6, in a 15-passenger van near Sioux Center on Friday. Dekkers runs a day care from her home and was on her way to pick up her own children from school.

At some point, Dekkers heard a pop and the car began filling with smoke.

“After I ran around the front of the van to open the door to the side to get the kids out, I saw flames” under the van, she said. “I just moved as fast I could to get everyone out.”

“I give all the credit to God,” she added. “He was the one who was with me. He was the one who made it all possible for me to get them all out.”

Three older kids in booster seats were able to undo their seat belts. Dekkers said she helped them jump out of the van and she instructed them to run toward a nearby ditch.

A good Samaritan in a pickup truck saw the commotion and pulled over to help. The three older kids were told to go to the pickup to stay warm. Dekkers said she then turned to the younger kids, who were still in car seats.

“One at a time, I would untie them and get them out of the van and hand them off to the guy and he would run them to the truck,” she said.

“I kept telling the kids, ‘We’re going to be OK,’” she added.

Shortly after all the kids were out, the van became engulfed in flames. It was completely destroyed, but no injuries were reported. The Sioux County Sheriff’s Office said a mechanical failure appears to have caused the fire.

“I was scared,” Dekkers said. “I just kept hoping I was moving fast enough to get them out before it went up in flames.”

Dekkers said she doesn’t consider herself a hero because she did what anyone else would do in that situation. She said she’s grateful to the good Samaritan, a man who identified himself only as Rick. She said she doesn’t have additional information about him, but she was able to speak with him on Sunday.

Dekkers said the children’s parents have been supportive since the fire. She said she’s continuing to watch the kids, and she’s figuring out her transportation needs with the help of her community.

“Right now we’re not quite sure what’s going to happen,” she said, and added, “We’ll see what happens.”

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