A North Carolina family may have lost all of their material possessions in a raging house fire, but their situation could have been much worse if their eldest son had not saved two of his younger brothers as a fire engulfed the top floor of the home, where the three boys slept.
Jesse Lukens, his wife, Julie, and their six children were sound asleep Monday when the fire broke out at their home in Rutherfordton, North Carolina just before 3 a.m., Jesse told ABC News today. When Jesse made it out of their home, he looked up and saw the flames taking over the second floor.
“I thought I lost three sons," Jesse told ABC News affiliate WLOS. "I thought they were trapped upstairs."
But Jeb, 14, woke up his brothers and jumped out of a window on the second story after making sure they were safely out of the home, their father said. Thad, 9, jumped out the of window, but 7-year-old Morgan was too scared to jump, so Jeb slowly lowered him down as much as he could before letting go. He landed in the bushes.
Jeb then ran into the first floor of the home to make sure the rest of the family got out, Jesse said.
“My oldest boy pretty much saved all of us,” Jesse told ABC News.
A few minutes later, the home was totally engulfed, Jesse said.
“In the time that it took us to get there, I was very surprised that the top floor was already burned off,” Fire Chief Greg Rutte told ABC News. It took less than 10 minutes for 25 volunteer firefighters to arrive on the scene, he said.
The entire family of eight made it out alive, other than a few “bumps and bruises,” Jesse said, adding that he received a few burns on his back and feet from when he tried to run upstairs to check on his sons. Thad got scraped up after landing in the gutter when he jumped from the window, he said.
Jeb’s take-charge behavior and determination to save his family didn’t surprise his father.
“He’s like the second dad around here,” he said.
The Lukens are currently staying with Nathan Deatrick, a pastor from their church who Jesse has known since college. The Deatricks have four children themselves.
"Everyone is getting along just fine," Deatrick said of all 10 children staying in the home. "The more the merrier."
On Tuesday, church members helped the Lukens salvage everything they could, including some photos and pieces of Julie's jewelry. But, even though the family lost almost everything in the fire, Jesse is thankful that everyone made it out alive.
“As soon as we got everybody out of the house, I didn’t care about anything else," he told ABC News, calling his family his “true wealth.” “They can never be replaced. All of this other garbage can [be].”
Their home was so badly damaged that investigators may not be able to determine the exact cause of the fire, Rutte told ABC News.
On Thursday, the Lukens will move to a mission house on church property until a rental home is ready. A GoFundMe page was set up for the Lukens by a family member.