It was 6:30 in the morning and Tyhara Woods was half asleep when she heard screams coming from the apartment above. Someone was shouting “Oh my God,” and there were blood-curdling wails.

Woods, 18 weeks pregnant with her fourth child, got out of bed, put on her slippers, and walked toward her bedroom door. She smelled something burning.

She flung open the door of the bedroom next to hers to find it filled with smoke and her three sons fast asleep.

It would be about three excruciating minutes from when Woods got up until she and her longtime partner, Charles Scott, got themselves, their three children, and a 5-year-old boy who lived above them out of the burning house.

Two hours later they would learn that 12 members of the family they lived below for a decade — nine of them children — were gone in the deadliest fire Philadelphia has seen in decades. Investigators believe that on the second floor of the duplex on North 23rd Street, on the other side of the wall where Woods’ family slept, the 5-year-old boy had accidentally lit a Christmas tree on fire. The victims were sisters Rosalee McDonald, 33, Virginia Thomas, 30, and Quinsha White, 18, and their children ages 2 to 16.

Woods and her family survived with some injuries, but they were left without a home, and her children are traumatized, calling out for their mother in the middle of the night and thinking another fire will hurt them.

“I never thought something like this would happen, especially for our kids,” said Scott, 32. “You go to sleep and you wake up and you could have lost your life.”

There were plenty of points during their evacuation from the burning rowhouse that could have turned deadly.

Woods screamed to her sons to get out of bed, then ran back into her bedroom to wake up Scott by kicking the bed and jolting him awake. They dashed back to grab the kids and found 6-year-old Miles, their youngest, half asleep and putting on his school uniform.

Zykee, 13, and Charles, 7, were shoeless, but more alert. Woods started to push them to go down the stairs, out the apartment, and toward the shared front door, the only way she figured it was possible to get out of the building. There was no fire escape, and the rear door would have taken them through the basement.

With her two sons in tow, Woods stepped out of her apartment and into the hallway where the 5-year-old who lived upstairs was standing, frozen. He pointed up and said, “Mommy.”

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As they approached the front door, burning debris rained down from the ceiling. One of the balls of fire fell on Charles’ head — another ran down Zykee’s arm. Woods pressed both of them out the door. Right behind them was Scott, who picked up Miles and enveloped him with his body to protect him from being burned.

Outside, a man who had climbed out of a third-floor window was screaming for someone to “go get Rose.” Neighbors were standing in the middle of the street amid the chaos and pulling the children in to tend to them until paramedics arrived. Woods went with her older sons into a neighbor’s house, and Scott plopped Miles down with another, knowing the 5-year-old was still standing outside their apartment door.

Flames were shooting from the second-floor windows as he went back in the burning building where temperatures upstairs were rising to higher than 500 degrees. He scooped up the young boy and carried him out the same way he’d carried his own son. Two neighbors took the boy in and watched over him until first responders transported him to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Scott found Miles and learned that Woods and his two other sons had already been put in an ambulance and were on their way to St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. The younger Charles was shaking and would say he thought his father had died when he went back into the house.

As Scott worried about his pregnant partner, Woods was in the ambulance fearful for her sons. They were awake, but she didn’t know how much smoke was inside their lungs.

“It was so scary,” she said.

Both boys were OK — they were treated for burns and released within a few hours. More than a week later, they still feel pain, Woods said, and must apply ointment to protect the burns from infection.

That they got out of the building with their lives is a blessing, Scott and Woods said. No smoke alarms went off in the upper unit — investigators believe all had been disabled. None of the six smoke detectors went off in the lower unit, Scott and Woods said.

A spokesperson for the Fire Department said investigators didn’t test the alarms in their unit, but believe they were “operable” and didn’t sound “because their operating limits were not reached by the smoke conditions.” Some alarms from the house were collected as evidence and are being analyzed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which partnered with the Philadelphia Fire Department to investigate the cause of the blaze.

For the last eight days, Woods has been haunted by the thought of what might have happened if she hadn’t been stirring when the commotion began. She’d awakened earlier and remembered that it was trash collection day and her son had forgotten to take out the garbage. She texted Scott at 5:44 a.m. to remind him to make sure someone did it when he woke up.

“I just keep thinking,” Woods said, “what if I had stayed asleep?”

» READ MORE: The Fairmount fire was a once-in-a-generation tragedy. Here's how it unfolded.

The family’s goal now is figuring out somewhere to live — a place they can call home and start over with their family that will grow by summer. Relatives are helping to raise money.

A spokesperson for the Philadelphia Housing Authority, which owns the rowhouse on North 23rd Street, said the federally funded agency will provide relocation assistance to the family. In the meantime, they’re staying in the basement of a relative’s North Philadelphia home. When the children wake up and their mother is in another room, they scream for her.

A few nights ago, Miles bolted out of bed and ran to the door, thinking there was another fire. Zykee, a talented young football player, told his father he always hoped he might become famous as an NFL star — but he never asked to be known for a tragedy.

And little Charles is devastated that his Legos and action figures are gone, along with almost all their other possessions.

“Everything was damaged,” Scott said. “We lost everything.”

Staff writer Jeremy Roebuck contributed to this article.