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Blaze destroys Spencer home
Family escapes harm; one responder suffers heat exhaustion
A firefighter (far right) directs water onto a burning house Monday at 1571 Old Well Road in Spencer. Flames and smoke filled the air as the home was destroyed. No one was at home when the blaze began, officials said. (Bulletin photo by Paul Collins)
Pastor Paul Hooker knelt by a motorcycle that had been removed from his burning home Monday afternoon as another man offered comfort.
Nancy Hooker, the pastor’s wife, said later that her husband probably was praying at the time. Pastor Hooker initially declined to be interviewed.
The home was destroyed. However, Horsepasture Fire Chief Charlie Bradshaw said firefighters were able to save 25 years’ worth of Pastor Hooker’s sermons and Bibles — the things Hooker wanted more than anything else to be saved, Bradshaw added.
Hooker is the pastor of Adventure in Faith Church in Martinsville, his wife said.
The fire was reported at 2:49 p.m. Monday at the home at 1571 Old Well Road in Spencer. Nancy Hooker described it as a house built around a singlewide mobile home, with four cathedral ceilings in the living room.
Bradshaw estimated the living quarters of the house at about 30 by 70 feet, and the attached garage at about 20 by 30 feet. The house has a deck around the back, he said.
No one was at home when the fire started. During firefighting, Dachay Fitzgerald of Horsepasture Rescue Squad suffered heat exhaustion, was given oxygen and was taken by ambulance to Memorial Hospital in Martinsville, Bradshaw and other officials said.
Ryan Shepherd, a spokesman for Memorial Hospital, said at about 7 p.m. that Fitzgerald was in the hospital emergency department being evaluated.
Lisa Garrett, assistant Henry County fire marshal, said the fire started in the garage and spread to the living quarters. She and Bradshaw said the county fire marshal’s office hopes to begin the investigation of the cause of the fire today.
Garrett said a neighbor was able to get into the Hookers’ house and save their dog.
“I hate it when we have a house fire, but I hate when people lose pets, too,” Garrett said.
Neighbor Richie Simpkins said he and his son, Robert Simpkins, went to the Hooker home after they saw a big cloud of smoke. No one answered when they beat on the door, but they heard the dog whimpering. Robert Simpkins kicked the door open, went inside and got the dog (a Boston terrier puppy named Rue). Robert could see, through a hole that had burned, all the way from the living quarters into the garage, Richie Simpkins said. That’s when his son “got the hell out of there.”
Richie and Robert also were able to save a little bit of furniture from the home, which they put in the yard.
Richie Simpkins said he was spraying water on the home with a garden hose when firefighters arrived and took over.
Bradshaw said every fire department in Henry County and one in Patrick County responded (either fighting the fire directly or providing tankers for water supply). Responding were Horsepasture, Ridgeway, Fieldale, Patrick Henry, Bassett, Collinsville, Dyers Store, Axton and Moorefield Store fire departments; Horsepasture and Dyers Store rescue squads; Stone Ambulance; the Henry County Sheriff’s Office; Henry County Public Safety; and the American Red Cross.
Firefighters and other emergency personnel had to battle intense heat from the flames and Mother Nature (it was 93 degrees outside).
As firefighters battled the blaze, Nancy Hooker said her husband’s main concern “is 25 years of sermons he had.”
Nancy also said: “We’ve got a daughter (Ashley Hooker), 17. She’s lost everything she’s ever had.” Paul “P.J.” Hooker Jr. — Paul Hooker’s son and Nancy Hooker’s stepson — is in the National Guard. “All his military stuff is in there,” Nancy Hooker said.
She also was concerned about Frontiersmen Camping Fellowship costumes in the home, some of which cost hundreds of dollars, she said. According to online information, Frontiersmen Camping Fellowship is a program of Royal Rangers, serves as its service/honor organization and is similar to the Boy Scouts of America’s Order of the Arrow.
Nancy Hooker said a number of members of Adventure in Faith Church were at the fire scene, trying to help the family.
“It’s all we’ve got,” Nancy said of the family’s faith.
She said their insurance company “will put us up in temporary housing until we rebuild.”
Nancy Hooker, who works in the office at Roselawn Burial Park, said she, Paul, Ashley and P.J. live in the home, and they were in the process of making apartments in the home for P.J. and Ashley.
Bradshaw estimated it took firefighters about 45 minutes to get the fire under control. In addition to traditional fire hoses that firefighters used, Bradshaw pointed out a “deck gun,” or water cannon, on a Horsepasture fire truck, which he said provided more water and required less manpower.
At times, flames appeared to rise 10 or more feet above the roof of the house, and clouds of smoke rose dozens of feet into the air.
Firefighters first cleared the scene at about 6:15 p.m. Firefighters were called back after that for about 30 minutes, roughly from 7 to 7:30 p.m., when the fire rekindled, Bradshaw said. They were called to the scene at least once more after that.
Bradshaw estimated damage to the house and contents at about $110,000. Nancy Hooker said the tax value of house is $87,000.
Officials said some motorcycles and a lawn mower in the garage; several pieces of furniture from one room; a small amount of the costumes for Frontiersmen Camping Fellowship; filing cabinets with Hooker’s 25 years of sermons; and Bibles were about all that was salvaged. A truck that was parked in the Hookers’ driveway near the burning house was moved.
Bradshaw said the Red Cross was putting the family up in a motel Monday night.
He said they lost all their clothes and most everything else. He urged anyone who would like to help the family to call the Red Cross to find out exactly what they need.