A volunteer firefighter and a passerby were the first to respond to a house fire near Clover on Monday afternoon, helping a woman escape from the burning house.
Firefighters from five departments in two states responded around 2:30 p.m. to a house fire on Love Road between Ridge Road and the state line. A 62-year-old woman inside the house suffered burns and had to be airlifted by helicopter to the Baptist Health Burn Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., said Clover Fire Chief Charlie Love.
Crews from Bethany, Bethel and Clover fire departments raced to the scene along with two stations that crossed the state line from Gaston County, N.C.
But before any fire engines arrived, volunteer firefighter Luke Caldwell left his own home on Ridge Road and drove his car to the house. Along with another man, Charlie Kennedy, who stopped to help, Caldwell went into action to save the woman inside.
“I noticed fire coming from one side of the structure, and I called out trying to find the lady, because I knew there was an entrapment,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell broke out the window of the back door to open it, and was immediately met by “heavy smoke,” he said.
The volunteer firefighter moved around the exterior of the house to check a window, when Kennedy told him he could see the woman through the smoke on the floor. Caldwell, who already had on his fire gear, made the decision to go inside.
“She was maybe 5 feet inside the house,” Caldwell said. “I made the decision to try to save her, and I covered my nose and mouth and went in.”
Caldwell said he pulled the woman out of the home and got her into the yard just as other first responders were arriving. Flames soon moved into the area where she had been.
The woman was conscious but “unresponsive” when she was pulled out of the house, Caldwell said, and firefighters had to set up a landing zone for an emergency helicopter landing. The woman’s condition was unclear Tuesday.
Caldwell said he relied on his training as a firefighter to head through the flames and get the woman to safety.
“I did what I had to do,” he said.
Love also singled out Kennedy, a former Clover police officer, for praise after he helped rescue the woman.
“He wasn’t even a member of our fire department,” Love said. “He was just riding by and saw the smoke.”
Attempts to contact Kennedy for comment on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
It took firefighters two hours to get the blaze under control. A Bethel firefighter twisted his ankle at the scene and was transported by ambulance for treatment, but did not suffer a break. Bethel Captain Scott Boyd said the paid firefighter would likely be off-duty for a week because of the injury.
York County fire investigator Charles Williamson arrived after the fire was under control. He determined the fire was caused by a discarded cigarette, he said.
Bristow Marchant • 803-329-4062