By Sally Voth
An elderly Fort Valley couple and their daughter escaped a Thursday morning house fire with help from their neighbors and a passersby.
Bonnie Barton said her 53-year-old sister, Betty Stephens, called her to say the house she shared with their parents, Stanley, 84, and 80-year-old Lucy Stephens, was on fire.
Betty Stephens said she needed help getting her disabled parents out.
"They're both handicapped and have to have 24-hours, seven-days-a-week care," Barton said. "She lives here and takes care of them."
Barton said she frantically called relatives on her cell phone as she rushed from her Edinburg home to her parent's home at 3911 St. David's Church Road.
"I was 20 minutes away and thought, 'They will be gone before I get there,'" she said.
"[She told relatives] 'Mom and Dad's house is on fire. I'm on my way, but can you get there quick?' I think in the meantime my uncle had already heard about it."
One of the first people on the scene was Shannon Johnson, a service assistant for Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue. She and her fiancé -- who is related to the Stephenses -- live less than a mile away.
In a Thursday afternoon phone interview, Johnson said she was getting her son ready for school when a Fort Valley Volunteer Fire Department volunteer sent her a text message.
When Johnson drove around a turn in the road, she saw the house on fire.
"I heard Betty hollering for somebody to help her," she said. "So, I was hollering her name."
There is a disabled ramp leading to an entrance on one side of the home.
"I couldn't get in that way because ... there was too much smoke," Johnson said.
A gate at the top of a set of porch steps on the opposite side of the house was locked.
"I jumped over the gate, and Betty's father, Stanley, was standing on the outside of the porch," Johnson said.
Betty Stephens was trying to get her mother out of a hospital bed in the living room, Johnson said.
"The smoke had actually banked down to about mid-level in the room," Johnson said. "It was really hard to see and to breathe. We managed to get Lucy up and out with the help of some medical equipment. We got her in that [hoist] and pushed out onto the porch."
There was still the problem of the locked gate, but, luckily, two electrical workers had stopped at the scene.
"At that time, the smoke was starting to roll out from under the eaves on that side of the house," Johnson said. "[The electrical workers] went and got a pair of bolt cutters out of their truck and cut the bolt off the gate."
By that time, other neighbors and volunteer firefighters had arrived to help the elder Stephenses off the porch, she said.
A news release from SCFR states it's believed the fire was accidentally started by the woodstove. It states the three family members were taken to Shenandoah Memorial Hospital for observation.
Barton's husband, Charles, said the call went out at 7 a.m.
"The clock stopped at 7:25," he said.
Jerry Stephens said when he got to his older brother's house he and his daughter were on the deck, and Mrs. Stephens was on the ground in her wheelchair.
"When I came in, there [was] blaze up above the chimney," Jerry Stephens said. "Luckily, they all got out."
The family's two dogs managed to get out, too, but their cockatiel didn't, Charles Barton said. He said he was thankful to those who helped rescue his in-laws.
"The people in Fort Valley all take care of their own," Mrs. Barton said. "All the neighbors, and really everybody in the whole Fort, steps up and helps."
The news release credits smoke detectors with alerting the family, and states anyone who needs help in getting one should contact fire department at 540-459-6167.
Besides Fort Valley, crews from Mt. Jackson, Strasburg and county fire department responded to the fire, according to the release. Units from North Warren and Rivermont in Warren County were also dispatched because of the reported trapped residents, but were called off before arriving on scene, the release states.
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org