LEBANON, Va. (WJHL) – The majority of the residents of an apartment building in Lebanon, Virginia were sent to the hospital after a fire early Saturday morning. The fire drew nearly every firefighter in Russell County to the scene and left most residents with little to nothing left.
Ernest Putnam, a resident of the building, said that if his son hadn’t come home from work and alerted him to get people out, the ending could have been drastically different.
“My son was just getting home from work, and if he hadn’t gotten my attention as I was sleeping on the couch, the ending could have been way different,” Putnam said.
Putnam said he went to the other apartments to alert his neighbors to help them evacuate and tried to tame the flames.
“I banged on everyone’s door and helped them evacuate as much as I can, then I took a fire extinguisher and sprayed it until there was nothing left.”
Putnam said when he walked into his home it was no longer recognizable. Ash had covered all of his remaining belongings.
“You can tell there was a lot of heavy smoke, and I ended up getting water damage in several rooms,” Putnam said. “The floors are so fragile and could collapse. This place isn’t the home I used to have.”
Jess Powers, Emergency Management Director of Russell County, said two young children had to be saved by being tossed out of a third-story window; their mother is still being treated in a nearby hospital in Greensboro.
“A two-year-old and a five-year-old were tossed out the window, and one of the deputies from the sheriff’s office was able to catch them,” Powers said.
Powers showed News Channel 11 which window it was and the extent of the damage.
“You can visibly see where the hallway is and the layout of the house due to the destruction,” Powers said. “Their fire escape was burned, and that was their only way to escape.”
Powers said local agencies, including the Red Cross Foundation and the Salvation Army, along with FEMA grants are helping residents temporarily as they can get back on their feet.
“There’s 11 residents without housing, and right now, some are staying in motels furnished by the Red Cross, and very soon they need to transition to another apartment or another place to live,” Powers said. “[I] along with these organizations are helping them with that transition.”
Putnam said this fire will forever change his life along with the lives of all the other residents.
“I was standing right here just watching my life burn up in front of me,” Putnam said. “It’s a bad situation. I’m just glad everybody got out alive that night.”