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Father defies flames to save his 3 children

A father was in critical condition fighting for his life Monday after suffering burns and lung damage when he ran back into his burning home three times to rescue his three children.

Nick Rutsis III, 33, was at Tampa General Hospital after being rushed Sunday from the predawn blaze at his mobile home in Riverview, about 10 miles southeast of Tampa.

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue units responded to the 4:02 a.m. alarm but were unable to save the mobile home, according to department spokesman Ray Yeakley.

Rutsis' father, Nick Rutsis Jr., said his son was sleeping when his wife of one month, Tina Rutsis, smelled smoke.

"He jumped up and just pushed her out the door," the elder Rutsis said. "Then the thing really started to blaze."

As black smoke and flames started to fill the 12- by 64-foot mobile home, Nick Rutsis III went back inside to get the children, while Tina Rutsis moved their cars away from the fire.

First he brought out his 5-year-old son, Nick, then he rescued his 6-year-old daughter, Alexis. Both had been asleep on the living room couch.

Then, with fire spreading throughout the mobile home, the father went back in a third time to save his 12-year-old stepson, John Netherly.

The youth was huddled on the floor of a back bedroom, unable to move, according to his grandfather.

Paramedics took the father, who suffered first- and second-degree burns to much of his body, to the burn unit at Tampa General Hospital.