Firefighters rescued two occupants of a South Zetterower Avenue home Wednesday, but the older brick building that housed an alteration business and apartment units was a total loss.
One man was removed from the burning structure’s second floor by firefighters using a ladder, while the second man crawled down the staircase on his stomach to escape the smoke-filled house.
The house, which contained Teresa’s Alterations and apartments, was still smoldering Wednesday evening after Statesboro and Bulloch County firefighters spent the entire day at the scene.
The call went out just before 9 a.m., Statesboro Public Safety Director Wendell Turner said.
Statesboro firefighters responded and hoped to save the home, but when they tried to battle the blaze, it was deemed unsafe.
“Initially, we tried to be really aggressive, but when the structure was determined to be unstable, we backed out,” Statesboro Fire Commander Tim Grams said.
Two firefighters were knocked back by a flashover when they opened a door to enter the basement, where the fire started, Turner said.
“It blew them back out of the room. There were no injuries. They were wearing their protective gear, and it did what it was supposed to do,” he said.
The first floor of the house was “cushiony and sagging” when firefighters tried to go inside, so they left and hosed down the blaze in efforts to contain the fire to the house, he said.
At 11:30 a.m., more than two-and-a-half hours after the original fire call, the blaze was still raging, sending billows of black smoke skyward.
Philip Eyrich, 29, awoke just after 9 a.m. to see smoke “funneling from the air condition vent” in his room.
He heard the man who lived in the other apartment, Henry “Hank” Parrish III, calling out to firefighters. Eyrich said he was alarmed by the sight of smoke filling his bedroom. The windows were painted shut, and he could not breathe. Grabbing a towel to cover his face, he crawled on his stomach to the staircase, then downstairs to safety, where firefighters and paramedics waited to help pull him away from the blaze.
“I heard Hank across the hall yelling, and I didn’t know what to do,” he said, still visibly shaken hours afterward. “I was pretty disoriented. I just knew I needed to get out. It happened so quickly, and it was so hard to breathe.”
Parrish, 67, said he was still in shock Wednesday evening as he spoke from the hotel room provided by the American Red Cross.
“I’m worn out,” he said. “It hasn’t hit me yet. Everything is gone.”
His possessions included several heirlooms that belonged to his late mother.
“I don’t even have a picture of her,” he said. “But the good Lord saved me.”
Members of the community began helping immediately, and gifts of clothing and other items came flooding in shortly after the fire, Parrish said.
“I have two large beds in here, and one is already covered up in clothes,” he said.
Statesboro fire Capt. Chris Whitehead and Firefighter Lamar Matthews participated in rescuing Parrish and Eyrich, Turner said.
About a dozen Statesboro firefighters initially responded to the blaze, and when they realized the severity of the situation, called for assistance from the Bulloch County Fire Department. A total of about 60 firefighters responded.
“The county fire department was a huge help," Turner said. "This is what I like to see, us all working together.”
The American Red Cross responded to assist the victims, as did the fire department's Community Assistance in Fire Emergencies, or CAFE, team.
“The American Red Cross is providing emergency housing and financial assistance for the placement of clothing and food,” Red Cross spokesman Harry Walker said. “Additionally, Red Cross volunteers have determined the clients are in need of medications that were lost in the fire. Red Cross nurses will be contacted, and the medications will be replaced.”
The fire remains under investigation, and a cause was not immediately available.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.