In the late afternoon of Aug. 9, Curt Perry, 66, of Little Falls was seated in his power chair, watching television, when he suddenly felt the intense heat and saw the flames climb their way up the walls and the living room curtains.
“We still don’t know how the fire started. All I know is that it was hot. I was doing everything I could to get away from the heat,” he said.
Looking back, Perry said that had it not been for his neighbors saving him, he would have died in the fire. At Monday’s Little Falls City Council meeting, James Reinhart and Art and Sandy Chapin were recognized for their lifesaving efforts and were presented with the Life Saver Award.
Fire Chief Craig Seelen said that although Perry’s neighbors didn’t feel like they needed to get recognized because “that’s just what neighbors do,” Perry was quite adamant about the three being recognized.
“Without them, I don’t think I would be here,” he said.
Perry, who is disabled, said that getting out of the house, located on 138th Avenue in Little Falls, was a struggle. Although he normally wore prosthetic legs after his legs had to be amputated, one in 2006 and the other in 2009, because of diabetes, he didn’t have them on when the fire broke out.
“I had just gotten out of the shower and was sitting in my taller chair with a T-shirt on and a pair of underwear, watching TV,” he said.
Despite that he was only about 10 feet from the front door where the ramp was at, the fire had already made its way to that area and was blocking the exit.
Perry said he drove as far as he could with his power chair until he reached the another door. Then, he quickly got out and crawled as fast as he could into the garage and threw himself off of two large steps to the ground.
By then, the house was completely filled with smoke, which made it difficult to see and breathe. The garage was also packed with so many things that it hindered him from getting to the garage door. As a result, he crawled over the items to the back door and kept his face as close to the ground as possible to avoid inhaling smoke and to stay conscious.
The back door Perry reached was locked. The dead bolt, that had been installed about six feet from the ground, also required a key to open it, a key he didn’t have with him. He broke the small windows on the door and started screaming for help.
Thankfully, he said, Reinhart and the Chapins were outside in their yards at the time and saw the smoke. While Sandy ran into their home to call 911, Art and Reinhart ran to the garage, kicked in the door and helped get him out of the burning building.
Perry said that at the time, one of them had told him they would have to drag him through the broken glass, but he didn’t care. He just wanted to get as far away as possible from the fire.
“It’s amazing how hot a fire really is,” he said.
With only some cuts on his legs and below his buttocks, Perry said he was happy to be alive.
Perry lost everything in the fire — his power chair, a wheel chair, his two pairs of prosthetic legs, furniture, clothes, photos, his vehicle and more. While the home had been left to he and his siblings when their parents died, only his sister carried a minimal insurance on the place. Perry was the only one living in the home and was responsible for paying the property taxes and the upkeep of the home. At this time, he isn’t sure what his sister will do with the insurance money, he said.
Since the fire, Perry has been living with his son, Wade, who also lives in Little Falls. His other brother, Duane Perry, who lives in West Fargo, N.D. has also set up a Go Fund Me account to raise money for Perry. It means a lot to him, he said, since what he receives in Social Security is his only income.
Because both pairs of prosthetic legs burned up in the fire, Perry hasn’t been able to walk since — something he misses greatly. He recently had his first appointment in St. Cloud to start the build for a new set of legs. As exciting as it is, Perry said it will be a while before he will be able to pick up the new prosthetic legs. Although insurance will pay for 80% of the cost, Perry anticipates his out-of-pocket cost will be about $5,000-6,000.
Duane was also able to find a used power chair for Perry — something he is very thankful for. Others have also given him clothes and other essentials.
Perry said that he hopes to rebuild at the same location as where the fire was, but isn’t sure as to whether it would be financially feasible, given the high lumber costs. Meanwhile, he has applied to a variety of places in search for an apartment to be able to have his own place once again.
Forever grateful for saving his life, Perry said he couldn’t have asked for any better neighbors. He has known Reinhart and the Chapins for a long time. For many years, Reinhart has plowed Perry’s driveway continuously — without even asking, Perry said.
“He just says, ‘that’s what neighbors do,’” he said.
Those who want to donate to Perry, can do so at www.gofundme.com/f/curt-lost-everything-in-fire.