Chineita Thompson, 22, moved to Rock Hill less than two weeks ago and settled into Pepper Ridge Apartments -- where she hoped to start raising the baby boy she is expecting.
"We had a baby shower," said Thompson, a nurse at Piedmont Medical Center. "We put the crib and mobile up and set up the changing table. We hung up all his new clothes."
Then, Thompson woke Saturday to someone knocking on her door.
"I looked out the window and saw flames," she recalled. "It was really bright red."
Thompson was among 12 people who were uprooted from their apartments early Saturday morning after a blaze gutted one apartment and severely damaged another one at Pepper Ridge Apartments at 1895 Springsteen Road near Target, Rock Hill fire investigator Travis McDaniel said. At least four other apartments suffered water or smoke damage, he said.
No one was hurt, McDaniel said.
It was the second fire at the complex in less than two years.
As the fire encroached, Thompson faced another reality.
"I'm eight months pregnant. I can't jump off this balcony if I can't get out," Thompson thought. "What am I going to do?"
Then, survival skills kicked in.
She woke up her 10-year-old sister and brother-in-law and dialed 911 before heavy smoke assaulted her nose. As the group fled the apartment, Thompson banged on a nearby door, saying, "Please wake up, please wake up," to the woman who lived inside. But, "She never came."
Thompson knocked on two downstairs doors, and residents came out, she said. Across the street, Thompson watched flames lick a neighbor's apartment. She didn't think the fire department would make it in time.
But they did.
Twenty-three members of Rock Hill Fire Department responded around 6 a.m.
"There was heavy fire through the roof of apartments 206 and 208," Battalion Chief Mark Simmons said. "The flames were visible from Dave Lyle Boulevard."
Meanwhile, the woman finally came out of her apartment, Thompson said.
"That was a blessing," she said.
While the blaze was under control by 6:57 a.m., some hotspots remained at 8 a.m., said Capt. Kenny Bailey.
"We do not have a cause at this time," said Bailey.
Saturday's fire started in a bedroom facing the courtyard in apartment 208, McDaniel said. The fire gutted apartment 208 and left 206 with extensive fire, smoke and water damage. Damages are estimated at $500,000, McDaniel said.
Not the first fire there
In Sept. 2006, a fire that started in a first-floor apartment displaced about eight families.
No one was seriously injured in that fire. The apartment where the fire originated did not have electrical service at the time. Officials determined a candle or smoking material ignited that fire and discovered no evidence the fire was intentionally set.
The complex does not have sprinklers. It is not required to have sprinklers by the code the complex was constructed under, McDaniel said.
The apartment complex was built in 1998, general manager Lee Thomasson said. He does not have any plans to install sprinklers; however, he said, fire alarms aided in alerting residents Saturday.
"Somebody banging on doors is what woke most people," he said.
Thompson is grateful for the knock: It spared her life and her unborn child.
"You can always get material things back," she said. "I'm just happy that God spared all the lives of the people who live around us."
Thompson said she and one other resident moved into different apartments in the complex on Saturday. The American Red Cross assisted those uprooted by the fire.
WANT TO HELP?
The York County American Red Cross needs your help to assist those uprooted in Saturday's fire at Pepper Ridge Apartments. Checks payable to the York County American Red Cross and earmarked for disaster relief should be mailed to 200 Piedmont Blvd., Rock Hill, SC, 29732.
Those desiring to volunteer or donate their time should call the office at 329-6575 or 684-2957.