"I recall three distinct moments in which I kind of freaked out, and that was the first one. My cognitive dissonance kicks in. I know what I'm seeing, I know what I'm smelling. This can't be!

"Being a guy, I don't hang things up. I throw on my shorts, T-shirt, shoes, and head for the door, which is the only way and leads down the spiral staircase.

"When I pull that door open, it blasts me with this super-heated air and smoke. All I could do was throw my weight against the door and close it. Black smoke has embedded itself in the room. As an old pilot, I'm aware that it's smoke inhalation that kills.

New Times photo illustration; photo by Jamie Peachey; Model: Gary Moyer
71 Biltmore Estates Drive on the morning of July 5.
Phoenix Fire Department
71 Biltmore Estates Drive on the morning of July 5.

"I get down low to the ground, where I have my second panic moment. I tell myself, 'I'm still screwed. How am I going to get out of there?' The window is an option — it's actually a wall of windows divided into four ceiling panels on tracks, with a little ledge before you drop down to the ground.

"I'm still crouching there, and I realize I have this collapsible escape ladder in the closet. I decide to try to go get it."

But the walk-in closet was several feet from where Marin was crouching near the window. He was going to have to stray from his only viable escape point — the window — to fetch the ladder.

New Times asks Marin why, as a fit guy who recently had conquered the mighty Everest, didn't he just jump out of the window, which was only about 10 feet above grassy backyard?

"I thought I would have broken my neck," he replied.

Instead, he says he fought through the smoke and found the ladder.

"First," he says, "I had to get it out of the box. Then, boom, I literally smacked into my scuba set, and I had a flash of inspiration. I turned on the valve, and when I heard the pssstttt, it was one of the happiest sounds I ever heard. I knew I had pressure."

Michael Marin says he has been diving since his teens. He is asked why he had taken the bulky scuba equipment upstairs to his bedroom closet when he had gobs of storage space on the ground floor.

"Can't tell you," he says. "I was just moving stuff in."

At this point, Marin says, he was coughing uncontrollably:

"I grabbed the ladder and the scuba gear and headed back to the bed, which is where the window is. And that's when I had another panic attack, if you will. I didn't know at that point if I was going to make it. I was feeling a little woozy.

"I knew I had to make a 911 call, and I had to breathe through this [scuba] apparatus, I had to get the window open, and I had to deploy the ladder. The scuba worked fine if I put it on my back, though I had to bend down to breathe into it. Time kind of slows down for me when I get into these situations.

At 4:46 a.m., the Phoenix Fire Department took a 911 call from a coughing man. The female 911 operator asks where he is. Sounding very calm, he gives her the address, saying it's his house.

Not until 51 long seconds pass does the operator ask Michael Marin what his emergency is, nor does he tell her.

Finally, she asks him.

"My house is on fire," he says.

"Just you in the house?"

"Just me."

Marin tells her that he has deployed a ladder.

The operator asks where it is.

"I'd rather work on that than talk to you, so let me get the hell out of here," Marin says, exactly 90 seconds after making the call.

At the same time, a next-door neighbor also has called 911 about the fire, telling another operator, "There's no one living in the house right now. I don't expect there's going to be anybody inside."

Marin continues to New Times, "Smoke was coming up from beneath. When I got the window open, that made things worse. I had a mask and a headlamp, but the mask was of no help. I wouldn't let myself become paralyzed.

"I remember Captain Peabody telling me later, 'The danger you found on Everest, you prepared for. You had the experience and you minimized the risks. But you didn't choose this — a living breathing animal [and the fire] that's trying to kill you."

Marin says he gingerly stepped down the ladder in his scuba outfit and, for the first time, saw the flames. He recalls making a second call to 911 (actually, the operator phoned him, not the other way around), heard the sirens of the approaching fire trucks, and finally took off the scuba gear, about 240 feet from where he had stepped off the ladder.

The firefighters soon arrived. He jumped into his blue Toyota Land Cruiser parked in front of the garage and drove it about 100 feet, out of harm's way, he says.

"I got back out and sat down and passed out at some point," he says. "My blood pressure was racing. My throat was killing me."

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