Nicholas Bushell was awakened at 1:21 a.m. Tuesday by a phone call from a neighbor who said a nearby house was on fire.
"I looked out the window, and threw on my shoes and sprinted across the street," he said. "The flames were probably 20 or 30 feet in the air."
He said he quickly realized that two of his neighbors — a 75-year-old man and the man's 51-year-old son — were still inside.
The Wichita Fire Department said the father and son both died in the fire, which destroyed their one-story home at 8625 W. Ninth, north of Central and Tyler.
Their names were not immediately released, and investigators were trying to determine a cause.
Wichita fire Capt. Stuart Bevis said the fire was reported at 1:19 a.m., and 13 units from the Wichita Fire Department responded. Crews found heavy fire at the rear of the ranch-style home when they arrived.
Firefighters learned that four occupants had escaped when the fire was first detected. They said the son got of the house but went back in to try to save his father and apparently was overcome by smoke in the master bedroom.
Fire crews were able to enter through a bedroom window and remove the 51-year-old. He was taken to Via Christi on St. Francis, where he was pronounced dead about 2:30 a.m.
Bevis said crews were unable to search further until the fire was under control. They found the 75-year-old in the living room.
"This is a tragic reminder of the overwhelming power and speed of a fire," Bevis said in a statement. "When fire strikes, get out and stay out. Call 911 and give arriving fire crews the location of any trapped occupants."
Bevis said the fire originated on the back deck, but the cause remained under investigation.
Bushell said that by the time he reached the house, flames had engulfed the back porch.
"It was sizzling through that porch like a knife through butter," he said. "That's how fast it was burning."
He said a power line was popping on the ground, and some neighbors were trying to break a window.
"That wire was on the ground just buzzing with sparks," he said.
Bushell said a woman tried unsuccessfully to break a picture window with a piece of cinder block.
"She threw it from 3 feet away, and it wouldn't break," he said. "The window would not even budge."
He said he tried to comfort the woman, whose husband and son were still inside the house.
When firefighters eventually broke out a window, he said, "black smoke just came pouring out."
The fire caused an estimated $60,000 in damage to the house and $40,000 to the contents.
The deaths mark the third and fourth fire fatalities of the year, as many as there were in all of last year in Wichita.