HENRY COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — Independent, patient and wise beyond her years — that’s how a Henry County father is remembering his daughter who lost her life following a fire last week.

According to 10-year-old Zara Lundquist’s father, she died a hero.

“My baby was the strongest, biggest hearted, bravest person that I’ve ever met in my life. Even in her worst time in need, she thought about others over herself,” Steven Lundquist said as he began to cry. 

That’s what he said she was doing on Thursday, Aug. 10 when their house caught fire.

The Henry County Sheriff’s Office said a 911 call came in about the fire in the 2100 block of Highway 69 South in Paris at approximately 9:07 a.m.

An image released by authorities of the flames shooting from the home haunts Zara’s family because she was still inside at the time and they were “absolutely trying to get back to her,” Steven stated.

Steven was at work when Zara messaged around 9 a.m., alerting him to the fire. Despite his advice to escape, the Henry County man said his daughter was focused on her two little sisters.

“She said, ‘I can’t get to them, I can’t get through the smoke to them.’ And I said, ‘Baby, I will get them out, I’m on the way right now. Just get out, go out the window, go out the door whatever you can do, just get out of the home,'” Steven recalled. “And she said, ‘Daddy I love you, I don’t want to die.’ And I lost connection.”

Steven raced home so he could try to save his child.

“I was burned from the door, trying to force the door open, and I tried, I tried everything. When I went in the third time, when I burned my hands on the door, I could hear her beating on the door, I could hear her beating on the door,” Steven explained as he held his head down. “I couldn’t get the door open. I don’t know if something collapsed or the structural damage in the attic, but I could not get the door open.” 

Deputies said they responded to the scene of the blaze, along with members of Henry County EMS and the Oakland, Springville, Paris, and Mansfield fire departments.

Steven’s wife and two younger daughters were able to escape the fire in time. However, Zara — who was tracked down and removed from the burning house by first responders — was reportedly pronounced dead at Henry County Medical Center due to possible smoke inhalation.

“This is the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. No parent should have to bury their child,” Zara’s father stated in disbelief. “My daughter’s loss of life, unfortunately, cannot be replaced.”

Now facing the unimaginable while also recovering from second-degree burns, Steven can’t find the strength to return to what once was their home.

“It’s one thing to try to learn how to live again with loss, and it’s another thing entirely to do that and also have to rebuild and be strong for people that rely on us, and it is difficult,” he said. “We lost everything. Items and things can be replaced. Unfortunately, my daughter cannot.”

⏩ Read today’s top stories on wkrn.com

According to Steven, the outpouring of support from the community has been tremendous, even covering the costs of Zara’s funeral, which was held on Tuesday, Aug. 15.

If you want to help the Lundquist family start over, Steven’s boss set up an account at First Bank in Paris under the father’s name. You can also donate via Cash App.

Authorities told News 2 the fire is still under investigation by the sheriff’s office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, but they do not suspect foul play.