BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Fire tore through a home on Regina Place on Buffalo’s east side Thursday evening, while a father and his son were inside.
A neighbor says he heard screams from the father and ran to see what was happening. Lewis Varner, Jr. saw the house burning and the boy at a window in the back of the house.
Varner says he told the 5-year-old boy to jump but he wouldn’t, because he was too scared.
“When I saw him up there, I told him, ‘Just jump! I’ll catch you!’ He was too scared; he didn’t want to do it,” he said.
Rather than waiting for the fire department to arrive, Varner got a ladder from his garage, set it against the burning home and climbed up to the window. He says he tore the screen off and snatched the boy from the burning home.
He said, “While the house was burning, [I] got him out, pulled him down. But I couldn’t get his father.”
The boy was saved but his father didn’t make it out of the home alive. Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield says the intense flames, which neighbors saw bursting through the windows of the second floor, and the smoke prevented the 56-year-old man from escaping.
“The father, I’m sure, risked his life to make sure his son was safe,” Whitfield said.
Once firefighters were able to get past the flames and get inside the home, they found the man’s body in a second floor bathroom. He was brought to Erie County Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Renee Baker watched in shock. She had spoken to the man earlier on Thursday.
“He took good care of his son. He raised his son. He took good care of his son. It’s so sad… It’s so sad,” she said.
The boy was checked out and said to be okay, thanks to Lewis Varner.
Whitfield said, “He absolutely put his life on the line, risked everything to save this young kid. And the kid’s alive thanks to the efforts of this neighbor.”
But Varner said, “I don’t feel like a hero. I just helped a neighbor out.”
Fire investigators are still working to determine the cause and source of the fire, which escalated to two alarms after it started just after 6 p.m. Thursday.
Crews say the fire caused $125,000 damage to the building and contents. The flames also caused around $5,000 in damage to the home next door.