Fire caused by space heater man was using because his check hadn't arrived
By Joe Beck -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- The question of what happened to Michael Bennett's government-funded fuel assistance took on new urgency in the aftermath of a fire in his trailer Sunday evening.
Neighbors and visitors rescued Bennett, 92, from the trailer at 25 James St., but they and he remain upset over an absence of kerosene fuel needed to run the furnace that heats his trailer. As a result of the missing fuel, they said, Bennett was using an old space heater that caught fire but was quickly extinguished, thanks to his rescuers.
Bennett said he has been waiting since November for his fuel.
"I have a good furnace," Bennett said. "But it's like an automobile. You have to put fuel in it to make it run."
Elizabeth Reavis, Warren County's director of social services, said Wednesday that Bennett should have received a check by now to pay for his fuel. She said a social worker would be stopping by his residence to check on his well-being and try to determine what happened to the check.
The county's main role in fuel assistance is helping the state determine eligibility of those apply for the program, she said.
The remainder of the fuel assistance program is administered by the state, with the federal government providing the money.
The amount of money recipients receive varies each year and depends on factors such as what part of the state they live in, how many disabled people live in a household and whether they are elderly, she said.
Reavis said Congress failed to appropriate money for fuel assistance until late December, which may have contributed to a delay of a week or 10 days in delivering fuel assistance.
"Federal money has to be appropriated" by Congress, she said.
Nevertheless, Reavis said, checks for those who buy their fuel directly from vendors should have been mailed by the end of December.
"He should have gotten his fuel check by now," Reavis said.
Bennett said he is frustrated by the delay.
"November is history, December's history, and now January is partly gone, and it's still not here," Bennett said, referring to the fuel assistance he has been expecting.
While he's waiting, Bennett's landlord, Ricky Bennett, has decided to help out by buying him a few gallons of kerosene.
Ricky Bennett, who is unrelated to Michael, said he is also fed up with the delay.
The fire Sunday could have been deadly if he and several others who were visiting Michael Bennett had not been there, he said.
"I don't know why he hasn't gotten it," Ricky Bennett said, referring to the fuel assistance. "Last year, he got it by the 18th or 19th of December."
Ricky Bennett was one of the five rescuers in the trailer fire.
The others were Sadie Orrison, Robert Riley, Laverne Lawson and Glen Wilkes. All five are from Front Royal.
Reavis said people who haven't received fuel assistance they were expecting should call her department. They may be eligible to receive some emergency aid from the county.
Friends, neighbors and family members of those who are missing fuel assistance should also call, she said.
"If someone knows of a vulnerable adult in the community, we follow up on those calls," she said.