A Ceres garbage collector is being hailed as a hero for jumping into action yesterday morning to escort two elderly residents from their burning home while on his collection route.
By the time Ceres and Modesto firefighters had arrived, 1312 Grover Drive was fully engulfed in flames.
Bubba Lebow saw heavy smoke and called 911 at 8:53 a.m. as he rushed to the front door and pounded on it. When nobody responded he opened the door and saw an elderly man standing there stunned.
“I went in and got him and said, ‘Hey, you got to get out of here.’ It was fully engulfed in flames,” Lebow told the Courier. “They wanted to stay in because they were trying to get a rabbit. They wanted to keep going back. It was a struggle to keep them out of the house.”
Battalion Chief Rich Scola said the house was a total loss from the fire which appeared to have started on the patio and burned into the first floor and large attic space.
“Everything on the first floor was burnt,” said Scola.
Firefighters had the fire under control in 40 minutes and were able to protect neighboring homes.
Dena Brewster said she and her husband ran to the home when they smelled smoke and heard a scream. That’s when they saw Lebow escorting the couple out of the house.
“He literally saved them,” said Brewster.
The couple was taken to the sidewalk across the street where they sat in lawn chairs and helplessly watched flames shooting out of the front door. Dena and neighbors tended to the older woman who appeared stunned and distraught.
“By this time all the neighbors are out and everyone was taking care of them, making sure they were okay, trying to find their closest family members,” she said. “We were on Facebook looking for them because, of course, they don’t know any numbers or anything. We finally found them.”
Lebow, a 29-year employee of Bertolotti Ceres Disposal, had to leave and finish his route, said Brewster.
“I did what anybody would do. But when I left I got a little choked up about it ... I would hope that if my family was there somebody would do the same thing.”Bubba Lebow
“I did what anybody would do. But when I left I got a little choked up about it. I was like, I would hope that if my family was there somebody would do the same thing.”
Brewster said she planned to call Bertolotti and offer Lebow some kudos.
The man rescued from the house appeared confused and had difficulty walking and had to be assisted by Lebow.
“She didn’t want to come out because she was worried about her pet rabbit,” said Brewster. “I literally almost had to hold her down. She was trying to go back in and I don’t think they would have got out. She kept saying there were 60 years of memory in that house but they made it out alive, thanks to Bubba. He said he was scared going in there.”
Scola said firefighters made about 10 attempts to locate and rescue the pet but could not see it through the debris.
Fire suppression efforts involved five engines, a ladder truck, three chief officers, 24 firefighters as well as Ceres Police. The last units left at around 12:30 p.m.
On Monday afternoon at 12:38 p.m. Ceres Fire fought a fire that broke out inside of an abandoned home at 2453 E. Hatch Road.
Fire Chief Kevin Wise said the house was scheduled to be demolished for a commercial development and that the owners were complaining about homeless people breaking into it. He could not say if they caused the fire.
On Friday morning at 7:15 a.m. Ceres firefighters helped to extinguish a garage fire at 909 Fourth Street in Modesto. An outside fire had extended into a detached garage. The quick attack on the fire limited the damage to a corner of the garage.