McHENRY – A visitor emerged as a hero in a fire that ravaged a McHenry town house and killed two pets.
Navy Capt. Tony Kucia, stationed in Port Hueneme, Calif., was visiting his brother and family two buildings down from 534 Legend Lane, where the fire started late Wednesday. Family members saw the flames and called 911. Without thinking about it, Kucia, grabbed his shoes and coat, and ran outside.
The fire is believed to have started accidentally in the garage of one of two middle units in a four-unit building, said Battalion Chief Mike Majercik of the McHenry Township Fire Protection District. Firefighters arrived shortly after 9 p.m. to find heavy smoke and flames pouring from the town house.
Kucia, 50, said he found people still inside a neighboring town house. In what he said felt like forever before firefighters arrived, he banged on windows to rouse the neighbors and alert them to the fire.
Eventually, Kucia ripped a screen from a back window and found a family inside. A man was disoriented, and Kucia said he could tell he had just woken up. The man later told Kucia that he had taken NyQuil and was fast asleep.
Kucia grabbed a young girl – about 3 or 4 years old, he estimated – and a woman, and escorted them outside as their town house filled with smoke. He went back in two more times to get the man and his dogs.
“I just said a prayer,” Kucia said. “I said, ‘God protect me,’ and I just ran in and did it.” He said others told him they were too scared to help, “and I don’t blame them. To be honest, I should have been, too.”
In the unit where the fire started, two cats died, but one was saved, Majercik said.
One person, a bystander, was taken to Centegra Hospital – McHenry, treated for minor smoke inhalation and was released, Majercik said.
Neighbors in the Legend Lakes subdivision said they heard an explosion followed by flames and heavy smoke.
“I heard a loud pop,” neighbor Jason Sandman said. “It echoed and then burst into flames.”
Damage was estimated at more than $250,000.
The investigation is ongoing.
McHenry Township received assistance from several area departments.
• Lawerence Synett contributed to this report