LEBANON JUNCTION - Margaret Beeler doesn’t want to think about what would have happened to her and her teenage sons if a neighbor hadn’t drove past her house on the morning of April 21.
The possibilities are too painful for Beeler, whose home was completely ruined by a fire late last month. But instead of tragedy, Beeler’s story ends with hope.
Her home might have been lost but her life and the lives of her sons were not, and she credits her neighbor Marty Moutardier for that.
Moutardier happened to be in the Maraman Road area around 4:15 a.m. and saw flames and smoke coming from Beeler’s home.
Moutardier’s plans to go turkey hunting quickly morphed into a life-saving mission.
“I actually saw the fire before I got there. I didn’t see any flames but I knew no one was burning brush at that time of morning,” he said.
When he pulled up to the house and saw a car in the driveway he suspected Beeler and her sons were asleep inside the smoke-filled home. He could already see flames lapping from the upstairs windows and knew there wasn’t much time to get the family out.
Moutardier beat on the locked front door and thought for a moment he might have to break it in when a sleepy and disoriented Beeler answered.
“My niece was supposed to be there at 6:15 a.m. and I thought I had overslept. I just thought it was her. But then I saw the smoke downstairs,” she said.
Beeler was startled but quickly helped awaken her sons, Kyle and Greg Bryan, and they all rushed out. Moutardier quickly grabbed Beeler’s keys to her van and moved it to safety also.
“The entire top was in flames,” Beeler said. “Actually, after I got the kids out the front door I grabbed my purse and I was going to try and get my car out and the ceilings were already falling in.”
Immediately after everyone was safe Lebanon Junction police and fire departments were contacted. Unfortunately, the two-story brick home had been burning for a while before officials were contacted. The home was a total loss.
“I was just in shock,” Beeler said. “I called my sister, she lives across the field. I just called her and screamed ‘Oh my God, my house is on fire.’”
Emergency officials shortly arrived on the scene. Although the cause of the fire was not immediately known, Beeler and Moutardier suspected a violent lightning storm that passed through the area earlier that evening caused the fire.
Beeler said lightning struck near her home and she lost electricity around 1 a.m., but that didn’t alarm her.
“It’s not unusual for us to lose lights for an hour here or an hour there,” she said.
Beeler said several days later the state fire marshal determined lightning did cause the fire. It was estimated that debris smoldered in the attic for hours while she and her family slept before the flames and smoke were noticeable from the exterior.
Beeler’s sister, Johanna Beeler of Owensboro, Ky., traveled to Lebanon Junction after the fire to support her sister. She said Moutardier saved her sister and her nephew’s lives. She said fire officials told the family that her sister and nephews would have been dead from smoke inhalation had they stayed in the house for just over three more minutes.
“Marty Moutardier is a hero, “she said.
But that’s not exactly how he wants to be remembered.
“I think more along the lines of good Samaritan,” Moutardier said, referencing the new testament Bible parable in which a traveler discovers a severely injured man on the side of the road and cares for him.
“I would do it for someone I didn’t have any feelings for and I hope they’d do the same for me,” he added.
Moutardier said about 20 minutes after he arrived at the scene another neighbor came by to offer assistance. Although Moutardier didn’t get his name, he wanted to recognize him as well.
“He deserves credit, too,” he said.
Beeler said Moutardier was like an angel to her family that night. Although they lost all their material belongings and two cats, nothing could replace their lives.
“I think I am just so thankful for my kids and I realize that all the material stuff is irrelevant. I have my kids, my family and all my friends in Lebanon Junction. I see a lot of negative in my work as a pharmacist. This has made me see there are really good people out there,” she said.
Beeler said neighbors, family and friends have provided all the material and emotional support that she and her sons needed to recover from the incident.
Although the fire is a painful memory for Beeler, she plans to rebuild her home in the same location. Lebanon Junction’s residents have a close-knit love and caring for one another that she refuses to abandon.
“That’s why I’m going to rebuild there. That’s my home and I’m going back,” she said.
The Lebanon Junction City Council honored Moutardier Monday night with a plaque and a standing ovation for his heroic deed. Although Moutardier was honored, he remains humble.
“I was prepared to do more if I had to,” he said.