Local man rescues neighbor from fast-burning blaze

Susie Self made it as far as the front door of her burning Cane Creek Valley Road residence before the smoke and flames got to her.

That’s when her neighbor, Justin Ussery, came to the rescue.

“He was already getting his shoes on before I realized what was happening,” said Justin’s wife Lettitia Ussery when talking to The Nugget the next day.

The couple had been watching TV with their children Sunday evening at about 5:30 p.m. when they spotted next-door neighbors in the street.

They looked out the window to see the two-story brick home across the road completely ablaze.

“There were flames coming out of the windows,” said Lettitia. “It was shocking.”

A next door neighbor had reportedly called 911 minutes earlier.  

“She said when she first looked out it was heavy black smoke and there were flames going through the roof,” said Chief David Wimpy of Lumpkin County Emergency Services.

Once Justin discovered that Self was unaccounted for he put on his shoes at the backdoor, leapt over his backyard fence and headed for the house. 

There he found that his neighbor had collapsed inside her home, a few feet from the doorway. 

It was his quick action that could have made all the difference, said officials. 

“I didn’t see where he went,” Lettitia said. “But a few seconds later he came back carrying her.”

Self was suffering from “severe burns,” said Wimpy.

Justin then returned to the house to search for Self’s small dog Muffy, which he was able to rescue from the back porch.

Lumpkin County first responders were on the scene three minutes after the call for help and immediately began to tend to Self.

Medical responders were able to stabilize  her and reportedly transported her to Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

She was then taken to a burn center in Atlanta.

All the while, firefighters worked swiftly to contain the blaze and keep the growing flames from spreading to the neighboring homes. 

“The house was pretty much totaled,” said Wimpy. “It was about 90 percent involved when we first got on the scene.”

The cause of the fire has since been ruled accidental. 

On Monday afternoon, Lettitia said her husband, who is a local probation officer, didn’t seem to think his heroics were much of a big deal.

She doesn’t agree.

 “He’s very humble,” she said. “The law enforcement mentality is that's what you do. You go towards the trouble. I tried to tell him most people wouldn’t do that. But that’s my husband.” 

Lettitia added that at the time of the blaze they were watching a televised sermon in which the pastor was delivering a particularly pertinent message.

“It was talking about Christ-like love and caring for your neighbor,” she said with a smile. “Then Justin got interrupted to literally do that. That was amazing.”

On Tuesday morning, Self’s daughter Renee Hyatt told The Nugget that her mom was “fighting and doing ok.”

“We ask for prayers,” she said.

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