Friends Donald Hathaway, left, and Justin Varnum helped a homeowner and her mother get out of their burning home on Swift River Road in Mexico on Sunday. 

MEXICO — Justin Varnum and his friend, Donald Hathaway, were returning from the fire station with a permit for a barrel fire at Varnum’s home Sunday when Hathaway spotted a fire at the home of Varnum’s neighbor.

“Look, your neighbor’s house is burning,” Hathaway said as they drove to the intersection of Black Bridge and Swift River roads.

“We pull up in the driveway, and I’m on the phone with the Mexico Fire Department that they needed to get the trucks up there,” Varnum said this week. 

He said they through into the burning garage into the breezeway of the house occupied by Diane Linfield and her mother at 223 Swift River Road. 

“The whole left side of the garage where she stored her hay and her side-by-side was burning,” he said.

Varnum said they told the older woman the house was on fire and she denied it until the smoke alarm started ringing.

He said Linfield was in the bathroom.

“We got the grandma out first, then went back in for the lady, who was getting her purse and stuff,” Hathaway said. “We had to go back in the third time for the little black dog, then went back in again, looking for her cat. By that time, we had to get out because the smoke made it hard to breathe.”

Varnum recalled that last trip inside.

“I came back down over the stairs and I hollered to my buddy and said, ‘We need to get out of here,’ because by that time, we were both pretty well choked out by the smoke,” he said.

When they ran out the last time, Varnum said he could hear the sirens and the firetrucks.

“When we looked back, you could see the fire ravaging the upstairs bedroom I was in just 30 seconds ago,” Varnum said. “There wasn’t a second of hesitation when I realized my neighbor’s house was on fire.”

After they got the women outside, Hathaway said, “They were very thankful, but (Linfield) was in shock, watching her house burn.”

Mexico Deputy Fire Chief Richard Jones said he met with Ken MacMaster of State Fire Marshal’s Office on Monday. He determined that cause was a heat lamp too close to combustibles in the small barn where chickens were kept.

The barn and an attached garage were destroyed and the two-story house, which was attached to the garage, had fire and smoke damage.

A cat perished, as well as a couple of chickens. Linfield also owned some goats and dogs, but they got out and were OK, according to Jones.

Varnum said he was told by the fire marshal the two women would have had a lot of trouble getting out of the house by themselves.

“By the time we had got them out, all the ways we got in were no longer an option,” he said.

In thinking about their actions, Hathaway said, “Wicked surreal. All the flashbacks, looking back. During it, it felt like an hour, but looking back, it was probably only like five minutes. There wasn’t a second of hesitation between me or him.”

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