update: The victim in Thursday’s apartment fire in Rock Hill, Robert Thompson, 62, has died.
Here is the previous story:
Khaydorn Wiley was about to head back to work Thursday after lunch at his Chandler Estates apartment in Rock Hill, when he saw smoke coming from the building next door and flames coming from over the roof.
An apartment fire, just yards from where he lives.
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“You could see the fire, the flames,” Wiley said. “And then somebody said that the man who lives there might be trapped inside.”
The fire was now not about Building 1112, Apt. 102 – it was about a person.
Wiley – 6 feet tall and pushing 300 pounds, who played football at Northwestern High in 2008 – did not drive back to work at the glass plant where he literally works in the oven. He rushed out of his car and galloped onto the porch wearing his Kevlar protective suit and apron, and steel-toed safety boots.
As both Wiley’s fiancee and a neighbor called 911 to report the fire, Wiley called out repeatedly to see if anyone was inside the apartment, but got no answer. So he grabbed the doorknob.
“It was so hot, you could feel the heat coming right out of the place,” Wiley said.
The silence could have meant the place was empty, but Wiley was not willing to take that chance. Using his heavy boots, he kicked the door four, five, six times, until it finally caved in.
“As soon as the door fell in,” he said, “the smoke and the fire came right back out at me.”
As he ducked down to the ground, Wiley could see through the smoke the feet of somebody inside. He tried to crawl in toward the man, but the heat and smoke pushed him back.
“It was so hot and thick, I just couldn’t get in to him,” Wiley said.
A few seconds later, the Rock Hill Fire Department’s “A” shift rolled up from the Cherry Road station just a few blocks away. Firefighters leaped off the truck and rushed toward the house. Wiley yelled to let them know that someone was inside.
As strong and tough as he is, Wiley had to step aside.
The firefighters made their way into the house with their equipment and were able to rescue the man, said Deputy Fire Chief Mark Simmons.
After the man was brought out, Wiley saw breathing tubes and more on his face. He and his fiancee, Shandrel Clark, prayed that the man would survive.
“We just hope that he is all right,” Clark said.
The man, later identified as Robert Thompson, 62, was rushed a few blocks to an open area near the Winthrop Coliseum. A helicopter took him to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, Simmons said.
Firefighters then put out the fire, which Simmons said caused at least $50,000 worth of damage.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation and so far is undetermined, said Capt. Travis McDaniel, an investigator with the fire department. Rock Hill police detectives also were on scene to assist in the investigation.
As the firefighters who had rescued the man milled around outside, Wiley had to get back to work.
He headed back to the OldcastleBuildingEnvelope plant on Mount Gallant Road, where the hot oven of the glass tempering area waited.
Hot, but not as hot as the fire he had tried to wade into to save someone minutes before.
Wiley’s co-workers bumped his fist and patted his burly shoulders as they learned what happened. Wiley shrugged it off.
“If that was my family, or me in that apartment,” he said, “I would hope that someone would try and do the same for me.”
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065