A man dropping his daughter off at a church day-care center in Johnson early Friday (April 11) noticed smoke coming from the parsonage and banged on the door and windows to alert the minister and his family inside the burning residence, authorities said.
Scott Stilwell was dropping his daughter off at Little Prayers Daycare, which is affiliated with the Johnson Church of Christ, when he banged on the parsonage door and windows, he said.
The minister, Larry Culbreath, was inside with his wife and her 97-year-old father. Two dogs and a cat also were inside.
"I'm pretty sure they were asleep, so I rang the doorbell, rang it again, and I was like, 'Oh, this is bad,'" Stilwell said. "That's when I had to start banging on the door. I didn't know how I was going to open the door, but I was going to try to open it if I had to."
Culbreath praised Stilwell for his quick response. Stilwell helped remove the 97-year-old man from the residence.
"There are still some good Samaritans in this old world, and he's one of them because he may have saved our lives," the minister said.
Stilwell said that by the time he got the minister's father-in-law out of the back bedroom and through the living room to the front yard the house was full of smoke.
The minister said the house is a loss and that his wife and father-in-law got out with only the night clothes and robes they were wearing at the time of the fire.
The family's 12-year-old cat, Midnight, died in the blaze, but their two dogs Peanut and Mollie survived.
Culbreath has been the minister of the Johnson Church of Christ for seven years. He said his faith will not waiver during this time.
"I don't question God. He doesn't put any more on you than what you can bear," the minister said.
Officials said Friday afternoon the cause of the fire is still under investigation. The blaze started in the laundry room, but Culbreath said the family had not been running the washer or dryer at the time.