Man killed in fire identified, death ruled accidental

Shenandoah County firefighters stand outside the residence at 1328 Pepper Road in Mount Jackson on Tuesday morning. Rich Cooley/Daily

The man killed in a Monday house fire at 1328 Pepper Road in Mount Jackson was Gene T. Polk, 89, the home’s owner and resident.

Nancy Bull, manager of the Northern District of the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Manassas, confirmed that his death has been ruled an accident and was caused by “thermal injuries and the inhalation of combustion products.”

Polk’s sister, Donna Sortzi, said that her brother was a caring, generous man who will be missed.

“He was a very caring person,” she said, noting that when her brother heard of something happening to someone he would send them money.

“He really cared about people and he loved to read. … He had a very good mind. He was a historian. He kept records of everything.”

Polk was a veteran. He joined the Navy at age 19. Sortzi said that when he returned home from service, the job market in the area was weak, so he enlisted with the Air Force. He purchased his farm in 1950 and lived there until his death.

Polk was one of 11 children, five of whom are still living – three sisters and two brothers. Sortzi said that he loved his friends, human and otherwise, and cherished time spent with them.

“He fed a cat that came to his house, and a possum,” she said. “He’d always feed them. Birds came on his windowsill outside his kitchen window and he fed them. … He loved nature. He had cows up until he couldn’t take care of them anymore. Any animals that came around, he would feed them. … He always got along with people. He always liked when the neighbors stopped by and once you stopped by you might as well stay a while. He was interested in people.”

After losing his sight to macular degeneration last year, Polk filled his time with the company of friends and family. Sortzi said that he allowed two young girls from the area to set up a playhouse in his barn, which Sortzi said tickled her brother.

The family had originally planned to hold a private graveside service at the Conicville Cemetery, but after receiving many calls from friends, they’ve started inviting those who call. The service will take place at 2 p.m. Sunday. The family has requested that donations be made to the Conicville Fire Department in lieu of flowers.

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com