Helen Massey's life was spared from a fire that claimed her home Monday afternoon. She escaped fully clothed, shoes on her feet, too. She even rescued her car parked outside.
But there was one possession the 46-year-old mother of three couldn't save.
"All I wanted was my teeth outta the kitchen," Massey said.
Despite watching flames gut her house at 215 Columbia Ave. and losing most possessions inside, including her top row of dentures, the good-natured Rock Hill native was the unlikely person cracking jokes and cheering up family and friends brought to tears by the fire.
"I was gonna try to put it out myself. I figure I'm a big girl," Massey said. "I went to get the fire extinguisher, but I couldn't get it to work, and my husband said to call 911."
Massey said she was returning from a quick trip to pick up her husband, Jim, from work around 1 p.m. when she saw the smoke billowing from the kitchen. She raced inside to fight the flames, but they already were out of control. No one else was home when the fire started, she said.
Capt. Rusty Myers of the Rock Hill Fire Department said the blaze started when an unattended pan of grease on the stove ignited. He said firefighters responded within minutes of the call for help, but the flames were heavily involved when they arrived. He said it took about 10 minutes to control the fire.
"I had turned on the stove because I was gonna fry some chicken," Massey said. "But my husband called and said I forgot to pick him up from work, so I ran out for a minute to get him. When I was comin' down Main Street, I remembered what I done."
Massey, who is staying with her oldest daughter and receiving assistance from the Red Cross, said she believes her home of 17 years is still insured.
"I just paid it off in October," she lamented. "I raised my kids here, and my grands. And I just cleaned the whole house. It was smellin' good."
By 2:30 p.m., the flames were extinguished and family and friends trickled down the street offering hugs, clothing and places to rest.
"I'm just glad they're OK," Leigh Thomas, Massey's niece, said after embracing her aunt. "My blood pressure sure was up on the way over here."
Jim Massey Jr., Helen's youngest son, watched from a neighbor's backyard as firefighters snuffed out hot spots in the roof. The 16-year-old said he's holding hope he'll be able to salvage some of his favorite possessions.
"My cousin stole my Gameboy Advance from me last week," said Massey Jr., "so at least I know where to find that."