Christmas Eve is one of the most exciting days of the year for most children, but for the Cerone and Tyutyunnyk families, the day turned from festive to frightening when a fire broke out at their Cheri Lane home Friday, Dec. 24.

Something that could have easily become a holiday tragedy, however, did not turn out that way, as everyone got out of the home safely thanks to the efforts of two young girls and a caring neighbor.

Thursday, Jan. 6, members of Northport Fire Department visited Edna Drinkwater School to honor 10-year-old Julia Cerone and her 13-year-old cousin Diana Tyutyunnyk for their fast actions and bravery on the day a fire broke out in their family’s home.

On the afternoon of the fire, the girls were playing outside when they noticed that the house was on fire. The Cheri Lane home is owned by Julia’s parents, Mark and Ludmila Cerone. Ludmila Cerone’s mother, 71-year-old Nina Tyutyunnyk, also lives there with her husband.

The Cerones said Thursday that Nina Tyutyunnyk, who suffered second-degree burns on her face, hands and back while trying to retrieve some personal items during the fire, has since been released from a Boston hospital. Ludmila Cerone said her mother is doing well, considering the extent of her injuries.

Mark Cerone said Thursday he and Ludmila are “very proud” of Julia’s actions on the day of the fire, as well as those of her cousin Diana, who was visiting the family along with her two-year-old sister, Sophia.

“She’s very responsible,” said Ludmila of her daughter.

Mark Cerone said he was impressed with the way Julia used the information she learned this past fall, when local firefighters offered students at her school a presentation about fire safety.

That information became particularly useful when Julia’s grandmother, who is Ukranian and doesn’t speak English, was trying to douse the flames with a pan of water when the two girls came to the door to retrieve little Sophia. Mark Cerone said Nina Tyutyunnyk asked the girls to come back and help her put the fire out, but Julia knew better, based on what Northport firefighters had previously taught her and her schoolmates.

“What’s more special about all of this, and Julia being recognized, in my opinion, is that when her grandmother was trying to put the fire out with water and had asked the girls to come help, they said no,” he said, noting that children are typically taught to follow directions that are given by adults. “They knew they had to get out and stay out, and they went and got an adult to come help.”

Once the youths got Sophia out of the house, they ran to the nearby home of Jay and Hana Thurston to get help. The girls stayed at the Thurston residence and Hana called 911 while Jay went into the burning home to find Nina Tyutyunnyk.

Nina Tyutyunnyk broke free from Thurston twice in an attempt to retrieve some personal items that had sentimental value, but as the fire grew, Thurston tried his best to break the language barrier to express the urgency of the situation to the girls’ grandmother.

Because his wife is Czech, Jay Thurston told VillageSoup he knew babushka means grandmother, and he kept saying that word and “Out, out!”

Thursday, the Cerones credited Thurston for saving Nina Tyutyunnyk’s life.

“He definitely saved her life, and he definitely put his own life in danger,” said Mark Cerone, noting that Thurston’s face was covered in soot when he arrived at his burning home. “The back of his hair was all singed.”

For Thursday’s school-wide assembly to honor Julia Cerone and Diana Tyutyunnyk, Northport Fire Chief Mike Alley, along with fellow firefighters Frank Alley, Paul Rooney, Paul Paige, Chris Alley, Jared Alley and Dustin Nadeau turned out to present the girls with plaques to recognize their heroism.

“What they did was an act of bravery,” said Mike Alley. “They did what we’ve been teaching you.”

Mike Alley presented two plaques to Julia Cerone, one for her and one for Diana Tyutyunnyk, who resides in Orono.

After receiving the plaques, Julia Cerone addressed the crowd, offering thanks to the firefighters and Thurston.

“If it weren’t for them, my grandmother wouldn’t actually be here,” she said.

The youth also offered her schoolmates some advice about how they should handle themselves should their homes ever catch fire.

“It’s never good to go back for something you want,” she said.

Mike Alley said he was pleased to see that a child was able to take what they had been taught about fire safety and put it to work.

“It’s impressive,” he said. “You hope you never have to see it, but when you do, it’s just great. It’s great to see that it actually worked.”

Drinkwater School Principal Jody Henderson echoed those sentiments.

“The fact is, as adults, there are all these things that we hope our children never have to do, but when it comes down to it, they can do it,” she said. “It’s pretty impressive.”

The Cerones said in addition to the help their family received on the day of the fire, the outpouring of support from the community has truly been a gift to the family.

Mark Cerone’s employer, Bank of America, has been very supportive of the family. Mark Cerone was granted the time off he needed to help care for his mother-in-law, and the company even paid for a hotel room in Boston for a couple of days so the family could be together during Nina Tyutyunnyk’s recovery. Mark Cerone’s supervisor, Cindy Joseph, went out on Christmas Eve to replace Julia Cerone’s Christmas gifts, which were all lost in the fire.

“She made [Julia’s] Christmas,” said Mark Cerone of Joseph’s actions.

And the community has been amazing, too, the Cerones said.

“We had so much support, we had to turn it away,” said Mark Cerone, who added that he and his family consider themselves fortunate to live in such a caring community.