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Posted December 19, 2013 EST

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Apartment Fire Displaces 14 Families On Hilton Head Island
United States (South Carolina) - A Wednesday night fire displaced 14 families and damaged 18 units at Wyndemere on Hilton Head Island, according to a fire chief. The Hilton Head Island Fire and Rescue Division responded about 8:30 p.m. to 50 Yacht Cove, where flames had already spread to four units of the 20-unit building, according to fire chief Lavern Lucas. Witnesses told firefighters the blaze appeared to start outside, but an investigation is ongoing.

The fire spread quickly through vacant areas in the building's floors and walls, making it especially difficult to extinguish, Lucas said. The apartment building has a sprinkler system, but it was "overwhelmed" by the flames, he said.

The fire was under control about 9:20 p.m. Wednesday, but some areas were still smoldering about 11 a.m. Thursday, according to Lucas.

"It's a tremendous amount of having to cut holes and tear into floor and ceiling to find all those pockets," Lucas said.

Before a damage estimate will be available, the apartment must consult its insurance agency. A structural engineer may have to determine whether the building is safe to occupy.

Five families were provided lodging at a nearby hotel by the American Red Cross, Lucas said, and nine families made arrangements on their own. The remaining families are out of town, he said.

Thursday morning, a short, blonde woman still wearing her pink pajamas and slippers, stood beyond the yellow caution tape strung around her building, swaddling her cat in a white towel.

"She was my main concern," said Liz Storey, 61, one of those provided housing by the Red Cross. "I was so scared."

Storey and her boyfriend were just sitting down to dinner about 8:30 p.m. when they heard someone banging on their door, yelling that there was a fire. Looking outside, they could see their neighbor's balcony engulfed in flames, Storey said.

She grabbed her purse and cat, but firefighters at the door startled Gracie, who ran inside and hid. Storey tried to catch Gracie, but she was made to leave.

The next morning, a firefighter found the 10-year-old cat sandwiched between a fallen screen and debris, soaking wet but uninjured.

"Everything else can be replaced. I just wanted my baby," Storey said, nuzzling the cat with her cheek. "I guess she used up one of her lives."

Written by Island Packet

Courtesy of NewsEdge
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