As Henry Golabek lay awake in bed Wednesday morning, a bright orange glow filled his room.

But it was just after 6 a.m. and too early for the rising sun to be shining into his downtown Charleston home.

Something wasn't right, he thought, and that's when he heard the crackling and the popping. He looked outside and saw his neighbor's house on fire. He rushed outside.

"It was the biggest ball of fire I've ever felt," Golabek said. "I couldn't believe how hot it was."

Fire started to consume the back portion of the home at 65 Warren St. as the Charleston Fire Department was summoned to the scene between Coming and Thomas streets.

Firefighters controlled the blaze within a half-hour and extinguished it within the hour. Department officials said the fire started in the front of a vacant carriage house but had not determined a cause. The carriage house was being renovated at the time.

The homeowner and her pets escaped when a smoke alarm sounded, Golabek said. The Fire Department reported no injuries, but said the carriage house sustained considerable fire damage.

The entire structure, which was built in 1834, is 2,859 square feet and was last valued at nearly $600,000, according to Charleston County property tax records.

Golabek and other neighbors had noticed a fuel smell after 9 the night before, but it's not known if that had anything to do with the eventual structure fire.

Kathleen Russell, another next-door neighbor, also said she had picked up the smell of what might have been diesel fuel. She couldn't figure out what it was, Russell said, but she's convinced that it had something to do with the fire the next morning.

Russell said the residents of the home, a former police officer and her husband, were about a week away from completing a year-long renovation.

"All the siding was done," she said. "Everything was pretty phenomenal inside. It looked gorgeous."

Not long after the house caught fire, flames shot over the rooftops of nearby homes in the Radcliffborough neighborhood. The inferno was visible from the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.

The fire spewed ash through the air. Two blocks to the east, St. Philip Street was lined with charred leaves that had floated from the scene.

After he noticed the fire, Golabek ran to the back of the duplex he owns and partially leases to tenants. He briefly thought about grabbing his garden hose and spraying the flames. But he called 911 instead, he said, and firefighters arrived within minutes.

Until the crews shooed him away, Golabek filmed a seven-second video of flames curling from the house and smoke billowing into the air.

He grew concerned about nearby buildings, such as The Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul on Coming Street, catching on fire. He hadn't gotten a chance to survey his own home, he said later that morning, but it was seemingly unscathed.

Golabek spoke of the ordeal as he stood on the sidewalk in his pajamas and sipped from a cup of coffee that a neighbor had brought him.

"It was throwing ash all the way into the church yard," he said. "My heart was just pounding."

Russell, the other neighbor, said she quickly ran outside after the commotion woke her. The fire didn't damage her home, but it scorched a tree and charred a fence separating the two properties.

"It was traumatic," she said. "It was terrifying."

Glenn Smith contributed to this report. Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or