’I freaked out’; S.C. mom says she’s grateful her son is alive after apartment fire

Updated: Jan. 9, 2020 at 4:01 PM EST
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ROCK HILL, S.C. (WBTV) - Nearly 40 people are out of their homes after a fire ripped through the Paces River Apartments in Rock Hill.

The fire started shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday night, and neighbors tell WBTV it spread quickly.

That was particularly concerning for Amanda Johnson who lives in Building #13 where the fire started. She says her 9-year-old son was at the apartment alone while she was at work.

“I freaked out,” Johnson said. “I clocked out. I ran here as fast as I could. My maintenance man actually found my son, he kept trying to go back in because we have a dog.”

Johnson was on scene Thursday gathering what little is left of her and her son’s belongings. She said she’s just grateful he’s alive.

“The maintenance man came in and found him in the bathroom and they pulled him out, and they found the dog later on” Johnson said. “But my neighbor thankfully took [my son] in, cause he went straight to the neighbor.”

That neighbor is Charles Lemon.

“She came home, and they were thankful we had him and had the puppy and everything,” Lemon said.

He adds he still can’t believe what he saw.

“I’ve never seen flames like that up close,” Lemon said. “You see it on TV, and you see it on the news, but it’s totally different when you’re in front of it. So it’s kind of scary.”

The Rock Hill Fire Department (RHFD) says the fire affected a total of eight units. Neighbors say at one point they thought it could spread to a neighboring building, and that’s where Joe Hayes lives. Hayes just happens to be the executive director of the American Red Cross of Northern South Carolina.

“I get to tell you stories a lot of the time, secondhand, about fires that have occurred, about people that have been displaced, and it is interesting to know some of these folks that are my neighbors - to walk outside and see if it was right in front of my home,” Hayes said. “It hits very close to home.”

Hayes says the Red Cross is now offering financial aid, hygiene kits and lodging to those affected.

“All of the people I think banded together, and everybody got out. All the pets got out, so I’m just thankful that everybody was safe, and we look forward to providing whatever help is needed,” Hayes added.

The Red Cross says they’ve been able to help 17 of the 38 residents who were affected, and they do expect to help more in the coming days. If you would like to help those affected, as well, the Red Cross says the best way is to go to and then donate through the General Fund.

Neighbors say there are some grassroots efforts to collect clothing and other necessities for the families, as well.

RHFD Chief Mark Simmons says no one was home in the apartment where the fire is believed to have started. In addition, one of the apartments that was damaged was vacant.

Again, how it started remains under investigation.

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