Jason DiVirgilio of Strafford stands outside the lake house he rented until it was gutted by fire on Christmas night. DiVirgilio found himself at another fire scene Saturday morning at Robert Sager's home on Bow Lake's Long Island. He's being hailed a hero for using a ladder to help rescue Sager. (JASON SCHREIBER PHOTO)
Man saves Polaroid philanthropist from Strafford inferno
DiVirgilio was sound asleep when he got a panicked call from Sager's daughter around 4 a.m. Saturday. She and her brother and his friend were staying at Sager's recently renovated house on Bow Lake's Long Island when they heard fire alarms and smelled smoke.
DiVirgilio told Sager's daughter to call 911 and that he'd be right there.
"As I drove by I could see a ball of fire shooting out of the house and I knew it wasn't good," said DiVirgilio, who works for Whitcher Builders in Strafford.
"When I got there the house was completely involved. It was just a giant blazing inferno. Fire was blowing out every hole in the house," he said.
His daughter had made it safely to an outbuilding on the island. But Sager was trapped on the porch of the second floor, surrounded by flames.
DiVirgilio then remembered the 16-foot ladder on the other side of the house, left behind after some recently completed renovations.
"I scrambled to get it up to him," he said.
With the flames licking at him, Sager crawled through the fire, blindly stuck his leg over the edge of the porch and felt around for the top rung.
Once safely on the ground, DiVirgilio, Sager and the others left the island in his SUV and made it to shore around the same time that firefighters and ambulance crews were arriving.
Strafford Fire Capt. David Hartranft said the cause of the blaze remains under investigation by the state Fire Marshal's Office.
He said an improperly extinguished fire in a wood-burning fireplace is one possibility.
Firefighters used a small John Deere Gator all-terrain vehicle and two snowmobiles to reach the house.
"We determined that it really wasn't worth risking personnel and apparatus on the ice," he said.
Katherine Soiett, who works at nearby Sheilah's Deli and Market, knows the Sagers from their visits to the market during the summer months.