Two disabled Fairfax men, Kenny Ashley and Jack Lefevre, probably owe their lives to a misplaced dental retainer.
When the retainer wasn't where it belonged Wednesday night -- in the mouth of 11-year-old Laura Johnson -- Rosalyn B. Johnson, went out to the car to retrieve it. When she did, she saw smoke pouring from the house across the street and Kenny Ashley sitting in his wheelchair near the front door, screaming for help.
Johnson said yesterday that she dashed back inside, called the fire department and ran to get her neighbor, Joyce Savich.
"When she said, 'The house next door is on fire!' my immediate thinking was of those two men inside," said Savich. "I just ran next door with her without my coat or shoes."
Savich knew that Ashley, 53, and Lefevre, 69, lived alone in the house at 2803 Woodlawn Ave., just south of Falls Church, and she knew neither one was physically able to get out of a burning house alone.
Johnson and Savich lifted Ashley -- still in his wheelchair -- across the front doorstep of the house and then, both said, without even thinking, plunged into the burning house to see if they could find Lefevre.
"There was a lot of smoke inside, thick black smoke hanging down about three feet from the ceiling," said Johnson.
In the living room, the pair found the normally bed-bound Lefevre sitting in a chair.
"He was just sitting there in a chair, and he said he didn't want to leave," said Johnson. "And Joyce just said, 'Oh yes you do!' "
The two women lifted the reluctant Lefevre out of the chair by his elbows and half-carried, half-walked him out of the burning house.
Yesterday, a fire department spokesman said the quick action of the two neighbors "most likely saved the lives of both men."
Units from both Fairfax and Arlington fire departments roared down the street just as the women were getting Lefevre out of the house.
The fire was confined to a mattress and bedframe in one bedroom of the house the two men rent, according to fire officials, causing about $8,000 worth of damage. It was caused by smoking in bed, fire officials said, adding that there was no smoke detector in the house.
Both men were treated for smoke inhalation at Fairfax Hospital and released to the care of county social service workers. Neither could be reached yesterday for comment.
As for Laura's retainer, despite the excitement, it was back in its rightful place.
Yesterday, Johnson called her daughter's forgetfulness "an act of God." And, she added, "I could certainly just as easily have said 'we'll get it in the morning.' "