Veteran escapes Hart apartment fire with just the clothes on his back

Posted at 6:59 PM, Dec 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-16 18:59:51-05

HART, Mich. -- More than 80 people are still without a home after an early morning apartment fire, including veteran John Varenhorst, who escaped the flames with only the clothes on his back.

"I went to open the door to see what in the hell was going on, I thought someone was smoking out in the hallway," said Varenhorst. "I called 911 and told them, 'get me the hell out of here, I'm caught up stairs in a fire.'"

It was a frightening moment for the Vietnam veteran, who was later rescued from his second story apartment by firefighters Thursday morning at Parkview Manor in Hart.

"I got hit with a cloud of smoke, it knocked me on my ass and I kicked the door shut. Then I had to crawl on the floor to the bedroom," Varenhorst said.

Firefighters ripped off his screen window and helped Varenhorst outside with a ladder as neighbors jumped from second story windows to escape.

"One kid jumped out and broke his hip," said Varenhorst.

John lost everything, including pictures from Vietnam and priceless war relics. He said he's thankful to be alive and has moved into his son's house, just in time for Christmas.

"I’ve gotta focus first, it’s gonna take me a couple weeks. Just have to move on, nobody died."

Investigators are still trying to identify the cause of the fire as donations continue pouring into multiple locations, including a bar called Kristi's Pour House and Gale's Independent Groceries.