When Zander Pearson, 11, awoke to his smoke-filled bedroom Aug. 21, he assumed he was having a nightmare. A pinch to his arm, however, assured him that wasn't the case.
The events that followed early that morning have some calling Zander a hero.
In his eyes, he did what anyone else would do. He saved his family.
"I was really freaked out," the Westview Middle School sixth-grader said days after the apparent electrical fire ignited. His family had returned to the scene in Summerville's Okatee subdivision to sift through the remnants of their home and salvage all that they could.
The single-story, brick house at 302 Mulberry Drive has to be gutted and its roof restored before the family can move back in, said Jonathan Kuck, Zander's stepfather. Hopefully, he said, they'll make it back home in six months.
Ash and blackened wood that splintered into a gaping hole in the place of the kitchen's ceiling was a sad sight for Zander. He had "grown attached to this place," he said.
Looking back, Zander said the smell of the smoke is what woke him around 1 a.m. the morning of the fire.
For a moment he thought his stepfather was in the kitchen burning some barbecue, he said. But then he noticed the smoke had filled his bedroom. He could see no farther than a few feet in front of him.
Sound asleep, Zander's family was none the wiser to the danger facing them all.
Zander first turned to his 7-year-old sister, Savannah, to make sure that she was OK. Then he ran toward his parents' room and screamed that their home was on fire.
"I don't think we would have made it if it hadn't been for him," Zander's mother, Kimberly Pearson, said.
Kuck said he believes the smoke was already starting to take its toll on Pearson and him before Zander startled them awake.
The entire family bee-lined out of the house and toward safety. They didn't stop to grab any of their belongings, Pearson said.
It wasn't until they were outside that the family saw the flames flickering through their roof. A crew of firefighters and other first responders arrived within minutes.
Crews tended to the blaze for hours. When the work was done, a group of officers lined up to shake Zander's hand.
"They said they usually end up carrying bodies out of houses in fires like these," Pearson said. Her son's quick thinking saved them from a similar fate, she said.
"All of this is just stuff," she said, her eye scanning the damage to her home. "Everybody got out OK. That's what matters."
Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.