Families forced out by blaze

Workers sort through charred remains of a section of a 16-unit apartment building at Martin's Creek Apartments in Summerville that caught fire early Thursday.

Melissa Haneline

SUMMERVILLE — Tears in her eyes, 12-year-old Danielle Alvis clutched her shaken Shih Tzu puppy under borrowed blankets Thursday morning as she watched firefighters spray water on the charred remains of her family's apartment at Martins Creek Apartments off Old Trolley Road.

"We just lost everything," her mother, Christy Freeman said. "We just moved here from Virginia. We don't have anything."

Alvis and Freeman were asleep at 4:54 a.m. when officials say a fire ignited inside a neighboring apartment. Neighbors and firefighters pounded on doors and walls to wake sleeping residents, all of whom escaped safely. About 25 Summerville firefighters and six Old Fort firefighters brought it under control two hours later, containing the fire to one 16-unit building.

Six apartments were destroyed while several others had water and smoke damage. Thirteen families, a total of 15 adults and 10 children, were forced from their homes.

Town spokesman Charlie Miller said officials think the fire started in a fireplace, but the blaze remains under investigation.

Resident Veronica Jones said fire alarms woke her up. She couldn't see the fire but could smell it. She fled to her car and watched. "The fire wouldn't go out," Jones said. "It just kept spreading."

Jennifer Brower, who lives in an apartment just a few feet from the burned building, said she awoke to a crackling noise. She woke up her husband, Jamie, and the two went off in different directions to alert their neighbors. One of them was Evelyn Gadson. She was asleep when Jennifer Brower pounded on her door.

"(She) saved my life," Gadson said. "When I came outside that door, flames were on the roof."

Miller said two apartments were already destroyed when firefighters arrived within a few minutes of receiving the call.

Jamie Brower said some of the first firefighters used extinguishers to knock down the flames as best they could until the waterline could be established.

Miller said the water pressure wasn't strong enough so they used a series of pump trucks to relay the water from Old Trolley Road. He said firefighters were successful in containing the fire despite strong winds that blew embers across the complex. "They did a good job knocking it down," Miller said.

The Carolina Lowcountry Chapter of the Red Cross was at the scene all morning, helping residents and feeding firefighters.

Gordon Robertson III, a regional development officer, said they were trying to move most, if not all of the displaced residents, into other apartments within the same complex.

Freeman said they moved to Summerville last August because they loved the area and the people are so friendly. They didn't disappoint her Thursday as she watched neighbors rushing to help one another out of the engulfed building.

"You could tell where people's hearts were," Freeman said.

She saw it again as people she didn't know kept offering her family clothes, food and a place to stay.

"The whole community — people that live here, that don't even know you — everybody has been so good to everybody" Freeman said. "We came down here just to find a happy place and we think we found it here."

Reach Andy Paras at 937-5589 or aparas@postandcourier.com.