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A knight in a white pickup truck


Gygax tells story of apartment fire, and the stranger who helped save him



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February 26, 2013 | 03:26 PM
LAKE GENEVA — Ernie Gygax said he owes his life to a stranger in a white truck.

"I was in the shower," Gygax said. "I noticed the lights flickering. I thought, this would really screw up my friend's computer. All of the sudden I hear all this pounding and shouting."

His first thought was that police were at the door.

"I thought, we haven't done anything wrong," Gygax said. "I couldn't see anything out the window, so I open up the front door. This guy starts screaming at me. Fire! Fire!"

Sunday morning, Feb. 17, Gygax's apartment and the State Farm Insurance office beneath it burned from an electrical fire. Gygax is the son of Dungeons and Dragons creator the late Gary Gygax.

The man asked if he was alone in the apartment.

"No, I have my roommate," Gygax said. "I could see the flames on the porch. So I went up to my roommate's room. I gave him a slap and say wake up. Fire, fire."

Gygax said his roommate, Scott Felton, was in a deep sleep.

"I got Scott awake and found my dog," he said. "My dog, KC, for some reason has her feet up in the air. She knows I'm slow."

After grabbing clothes, Gygax and Felton left the burning building.

"Scott's there, kind of dazed," Gygax said. "This guy (who alerted them about the fire) is cool. He's like in charge. He calls my dog right away. My dog normally doesn't respond well to strangers. She's a service animal. She's supposed to just pay attention to me. Well, she goes right to his car, which is unheard of."

Gygax said he doesn't know much about the man who helped him, Felton and KC.

"He has this big, beautiful white truck," he said. "I think someone said it's a Ford. That's all I know. I think it's a diesel truck, based on the size. The guy is between 40 and 50 years old."

The stranger was persistent, Gygax said. "I run out with my wallet and phone and pants and shirt," he said. "I throw it in my car. I'm getting ready to go rushing back in (to the apartment) to get my coat, socks and shoes. This guy gets in the way and won't let me go back in."

After the fire department arrived, the stranger left, Gygax said.

"He was directing like he's done all this (before)," he said. "He starts talking to an officer. He makes sure everything is OK. I'm a little in shock and dazed. He brings my dog back over, and he just climbs in his truck and goes away."

Gygax said he never got a chance to thank the man.

"I would like to thank him. My family would like to thank him," he said. "I'd like to take him to dinner or something. Without him, I might have gotten out with burns, maybe. But not with my wallet, and that has made life easier now. I wouldn't have my phone, and that's my only contact with the world."

Advanced warning

"A couple weeks before the fire, I was awakened on both a Friday night and a Saturday night, sometime very late, around 3 in the morning by sparks outside my window," Gygax said. "I had my window open, and the crackling noises woke me up. I reported that to my landlady."

His landlady brought in electricians and removed most of the electrical wiring from the porch, he said.

"We had all this lighting on the porch for games nights," Gygax said. "She had that all taken out. We were left with one little bulb."

He called it a warning and a premonition.

"She started asking us to not have any grill out there," Gygax said. "That we shouldn't smoke out there anymore. We had some sort of warning, we just didn't know what was coming."

Gygax's nephew responded to the fire with the Lake Geneva Fire Department.

"He tried to save all kinds of grandpa's (Gary Gygax's) stuff," he said. "There are irreplaceable things that are gone now. I salvaged some family pictures, but a lot of game memorabilia is gone."

Because his nephew knew the layout of Gygax's apartment, he was able to direct the fire crew. Gygax said he hopes some of his possessions can be saved.

His renter's insurance will cover only part of everything lost in Sunday's fire.

"Most of my cools things were destroyed," Gygax said. "I'll get money for my computer, and it will be replaced. My two first issues of Gygax magazine are burned, gone. My value of each item is so much, and that's what I can get (from insurance). They depreciate the value, then give you half of that in cash. If you buy that item, you get the other half. If you buy something cheaper, you just get the difference in the cost."

Gygax said his insurance company places a maximum value on the game memorabilia like a "coin collection" and imposes a maximum value.

Pay it forward

While Gygax is waiting for his insurance settlement to finalize, he's sharing a hotel room with KC and Felton.

KC, Gygax's service dog, is a little "unnerved" by the change in residence, Gygax said.

"She's good, but she's very nervous and unhappy," he said. "She's basically waiting, saying when are we going home?"

Besides the insurance settlement, Gygax has the support of more than 550 Facebook fans. The Ernie Gygax Fire Relief page was created Feb. 17, the same day as the apartment fire.

A post from Feb. 21 states that a PayPal will be created for donations from fans.

Funds generated will help cover costs his renter's insurance doesn't cover, such as medications, Gygax said.

"The funds will not be at my disposal," Gygax said.

While he awaits a final settlement from his insurance, Gygax said he's helping Felton who didn't have insurance.

"He didn't have anything covered," he said. "So I'm going to take care of him. Before this, he was living with his dad and brother. He's done a million great things, but he's not focused right now. He needs a big brother for a while."

Gygax said his insurance questioned him when they learned Felton was staying with him.

"Financially, we'll be cool, we'll be even somewhere else," he said about helping his roommate out with a place to live. "It's karma. It's the right thing to do."

Gygax has already returned to role playing games.

"I played a game this last Saturday, a board game," he said. "Instead of doing insurance paperwork which I should be doing."

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