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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

Stranger saves family from house fire
Man identified as retired New Jersey firefighter
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Courtesy Photo: An electrical fire in a storage building spread to this house on Crafty Fox Drive in Boones Mill Sunday morning. The back section of the large farmhouse was destroyed.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

By K.A. WAGONER - Staff Writer

The kindness and knowledge of a stranger saved the lives of a Boones Mill couple and three of their children Sunday morning.

A retired New Jersey firefighter who now lives in Wirtz was traveling south on U.S. 220 about 5 a.m. Sunday when he saw a "glow" and smoke in the distance, according to Franklin County Fire Marshal Bennie Russell.

The man recognized the signs of a fire, Russell said. He made a U-turn on 220 and drove along Crafty Fox Drive until he found two storage buildings burning behind a large farmhouse.

The man banged on the door, waking the couple and three of their four children, and helped them to safety, Russell said. The occupants of the home, James R. and Melissa Perdue and three children, escaped unharmed. One of their children was staying overnight with a family member.

The fire quickly spread to the back of the farmhouse, Russell said.

The man stayed with the family while firefighters battled the blaze, Russell said. When he left, the stranger gave them money.

The stranger was identified Monday by a New Jersey newspaper as Patrick Lenez, a retired firefighter from Bloomfield, N.J.

According to a story on the Bloomfield Life website, Lenez retired from the Bloomfield Fire Department as a captain in November 2011 after 25 years of service. Lenez and his wife, Margaret, moved to Wirtz after his retirement.

Lenez told the News-Post that it was difficult to sit on the sidelines during the fire.

"I'm not used to waiting on the trucks to arrive," he said. "I'm used to being on the truck."

Lenez said he and his wife were driving back from the Roanoke airport, where he dropped off his daughter for a flight to San Diego, when he saw a "flicker" and smoke.

"Something didn't feel right," he said. "It was about 4:30 in the morning and I could see fire down low.... In the summer, I wouldn't have been able to see the house at all."

As he approached the house, Lenez saw flames bellowing from the second storage shed. The first one had already collapsed, he said.

Lenez ran to the door of the house, while his wife called 911.

"I'm just glad no one came to the door with a gun while I was knocking," Lenez said, laughing. "That could happen here (in Franklin County)."

Lenez said Tuesday he didn't do anything extraordinary to deserve recognition.

"Anybody else would have done the same thing," he said. "The family is really nice. I'm just glad I could be there for them."

"I'm the one who benefited from meeting them," he added.

As for the money, Lenez said he gave the family what was in his wallet.

"I felt for them," he said. "They lost so much. It's not only the fire, it's the smoke and water damage.... They lost all their children's Christmas toys."

"I wish I could have done more," Lenez added.

"The family expressed their sincere appreciation for the generosity and thoughtfulness of the man, who saved their lives," Russell said.

The blaze started as an electrical fire in one of the storage buildings and spread to the back of the house, Russell said. The two-story wood structure sustained severe damage, estimated at $150,000, Russell said. The structure is uninhabitable.

The house is owned by Tommy Hubbard Sr., Russell said. Hubbard rented a hotel room for the family for a week and found another of his properties for the family.

Volunteers from Boones Mill, Rocky Mount, Burnt Chimney and Callaway fire departments responded to the call, along with Boones Mill Rescue Volunteer Squad and Franklin County Public Safety.

A minister from Franklin County Public Safety Chaplains also responded to provide comfort and counseling to the family, Russell said.

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