Barmah’s Lance James lost his house in a fire last Wednesday, but escaped with his life after a man visiting his neighbour dragged him out of harm’s way.By Monique Preston
Lance James believes he would not be alive if it wasn’t for a man he barely knows pulling him out of his burning house moments before it completely went up in flames.
Mr James’ story of what happened on Wednesday night last week is a haunting one.
The 64-year-old had fallen asleep in the recliner chair in the loungeroom of his home in Lawford St, Barmah, some time after returning home from visiting a friend about 10.30pm.
‘‘I sat down and watched TV for a while. Then I dozed off,’’ Mr James said.
When he was woken by the shrill sound of the smoke detector, Mr James said his house was a ‘‘haze of smoke’’.
He watched as the fire moved from one bedroom to another, before it headed towards where he was.
‘‘I got down to the floor and crawled. I thought I would be able to get to the front door and it would open, but it was jammed. It seized.’’
Mr James said he tried opening the door for what seemed like about one or two minutes before it finally opened.
‘‘The fire went out (the door) over my head about six feet (180cm) in front of me in a ball,’’ he said.
Still close to the ground, Mr James collapsed in the doorway, with half his body still inside the house, and half outside.
‘‘I had nothing left. By that time I had all my oxygen used up and no strength.
‘‘I wouldn’t have been able to get out of the doorway.’’
Mr James was pulled out of the doorway by a man he only knows as ‘Jock’, who was visiting his next-door neighbour and had just happened to step outside as the house went up.
‘‘He pulled me out. He could just see the top half of my body,’’ Mr James said.
‘‘It (the fire) was on the way to the door. It was only seconds from me.
‘‘Another half a minute and Jock wouldn’t be able to get to me. It would have been too hot.
‘‘He pulled me out and said I was starting to cook.
‘‘If he hadn’t have walked outside, I wouldn’t be here today to tell the story. I wouldn’t have been able to get out the doorway.’’
Mr James said the house went up fast.
‘‘From the time Jock pulled me out, in only two minutes, it was all alight,’’ he said.
‘‘I saw it after they dragged me away. The house was gone.’’
With the Barmah fire station only three properties away from Mr James’ house, firefighters were on the scene fast, but there was little they could do.
Mr James was pulled away from the fire, with neighbours and firefighters administering first-aid as the fire razed his heritage-listed home.
‘‘I was having convulsions with the smoke,’’ he said.
‘‘They were towelling me down and putting water on me and they put a wet sponge in my mouth.’’
Jock, along with neighbours he knows as Hippie and Irene and Barmah firefighter Margy Derby, stayed with Mr James until the ambulance arrived.
He remained in Echuca hospital until he returned home to Barmah on Saturday morning.
Mr James has since caught up with Jock, a man he previously only knew to say hello to because he was friends with his neighbour.
‘‘He was overcome with emotion as much as I was,’’ Mr James said of their reunion.
‘‘I’ll be forever indebted to him for saving my life.’’
Mr James is also relieved he had a working smoke detector in his house.
‘‘I had only just changed the battery with (the start of) daylight saving,’’ he said.
‘‘I thought about it (changing the battery or not) for a while.
‘‘But then I jumped up on the table and did it.
‘‘I’m a heavy sleeper, I probably would have slept right through it otherwise.’’
With his house now just a pile of burnt rubble, Mr James has been staying with neighbour and friend, Leon Atkinson, who lives across the road.
His house was insured and he has no plans to leave Barmah, his home of 18 years.
‘‘I want to rebuild. I love the community and Barmah itself, ’’ he said.
Mr James plans to live in a caravan in Mr Atkinsons’ backyard while his own home is rebuilt.
It is the help from the community that Mr James has appreciated, both on the night of the fire and since returning to Barmah.
‘‘People have been fantastic,’’ he said.
‘‘I’ve got everybody’s clothes on (as all of mine were destroyed).
‘‘Certainly the Barmah Fire Brigade was fantastic. And the neighbours, you couldn’t ask for any better.
‘‘I’m grateful to everyone that I’m here to tell the story — that I’m alive.’’
A grief and trauma counsellor at Mooroopna’s Rumbalara Medical Centre, Mr James said his job had helped him cope in the aftermath of the fire.
‘‘My job helped me to understand what shock and trauma is and how it affects you,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s helped me to recover probably more quickly.’’
‘‘I think telling your story always helps.’’
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