Crime

Retired firefighter's son helped save Lexington man in fire that investigators now say is arson

William Smith Jr., whose dad was a Lexington firefighter, was passing by when he saw the fire on Leestown Road in Lexington on Friday. After helping Clarence Woodrum down from a side balcony, Smith watered down the back patio so he and another man could help get Woodrum's pets out.
William Smith Jr., whose dad was a Lexington firefighter, was passing by when he saw the fire on Leestown Road in Lexington on Friday. After helping Clarence Woodrum down from a side balcony, Smith watered down the back patio so he and another man could help get Woodrum's pets out. Herald-Leader

A man was rescued by a passer-by Friday after being trapped on the second floor of his burning home on Leestown Road in Lexington.

Clarence Woodrum, 68, was in his bedroom when the fire started, and he moved to a second-floor side balcony to escape the flames.

"I didn't realize it was bad until I opened my bedroom door," Woodrum said. "Then, good Lord, it was so bad it pushed me backward."

Woodrum had no way of getting down to safety until William Smith Jr. arrived.

Smith, 50, of Lexington, was driving on Leestown Road to get to work in Frankfort when he saw heavy black smoke and stopped.

Fire was rolling up the back of the house when Smith arrived.

He grabbed a ladder from a side yard and took it to the side balcony to get Woodrum down.

"It wasn't the kind of ladder you could carry someone down," Smith said. "So we had to just guide him through every step."

Woodrum was uninjured, but one Lexington firefighter was taken to University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital with minor injuries, said Maj. Matt Galati of the Lexington Fire Department. The firefighter is expected to return to full duty on Monday.

After getting Woodrum down, Smith and Tom Wilson tried to open the front door to get to several pets.

Smith and Wilson, who was on his way home from work at the Jim Beam Distillery in Frankfort, were two of a small group that stopped to help.

Another member of the impromptu fire crew was a woman who stopped, leaving her baby in her car, to help raise the ladder to rescue Woodrum.

The front door was deadbolted, so Smith grabbed a garden hose and doused the back patio alongside another unidentified man who had stopped to help.

The urge to act quickly came naturally. Smith's father, William Smith Sr., was a Lexington firefighter for 27 years before retiring.

"I think for me, being a firefighter's son, being around it all my life, you realize how important time is," Smith said. "Five minutes is a lifetime."

Firefighters arrived a few minutes after they were called and began putting out the fire and searching for Woodrum's seven dogs and one cat.

Smith called Woodrum's daughter before resuming his trip to work at Frankfort Toyota.

"I wanted to make sure she knew he was OK before she saw all of that on the news," Smith said.

A former truck driver, Woodrum has lived in the house for 17 years, renovating it over the years. He also rescued Chihuahuas.

One by one, firefighters began pulling his Chihuahuas to safety and bringing them to Woodrum.

One, named Pippa, struggled with the firefighters, nipping at their fingers. Once firefighters handed her to Woodrum, she was quiet and curled up in his lap.

"Daddy loves her and she knows it," Woodrum said with a laugh.

Three Chihuahuas made it out of the building safely and two were unresponsive, Galati said.

Those two were revived by firefighters who used small oxygen masks supplied to every fire truck by the Lexington Humane Society, Galati said.

One of the dogs and the cat were found dead in the burned building. Another dog was missing.

Teachers from nearby Locust Trace AgriScience Center were called to the scene of the fire to check out the dogs.

Latissa Higgins and Kathleen Magsam, who are also certified veterinary technicians, said the dogs were in good condition.

The five dogs that were rescued are doing well and are in the care of Animal Care and Control until Woodrum has a place to stay and can pick them up, animal control officer Timothy Brown said.

"It's very rewarding any time we can make a difference," Galati said. "Every day, we see bad stuff, ... so any time there's a happy ending, it's a morale booster."

Woodrum told investigators that just before the fire, he'd heard his live-in housekeeper arguing with her boyfriend.

Woodrum said he heard the man threaten to burn the house down.

"Then, sure enough, the house was on fire," Woodrum said.

After an investigation, it was determined that the fire was intentionally set, according to Battalion Chief Joe Best. The Lexington Fire Department Investigation Bureau is asking anyone with information on the whereabouts of Adam Duff to call 231-5672.

When Smith arrived at work in Frankfort, he was still shaken by the experience, he said.

"My dad never mentioned what he did as a firefighter," Smith said. "I can understand that now.

Smith had to wait to tell his father about the experience, because the elder Smith was working at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. "Hopefully he'll be proud of me," Smith said.

"Now I'm just waiting to go home and hug my wife and kids," he said. "It was a good day."

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