HARDEEVILLE, SC (WTOC) - Four brave officers risked their lives to save people in a burning fire Sunday morning.
It’s the call they all sign up for, but few have to answer. Massive flames burned through the Knights Inn in Hardeeville. The four officers were the first on scene.
Right away, they helped people out of the hotel. Sergeant Jonah Jenkins noticed the smell of smoke and started looking for where it was coming from. He quickly found it coming from the Knights Inn.
When the other three officers joined him, they started a mission they will never forget.
“He just said over the radio he smelled smoke and I was right by the hotel. I pulled in and I saw the smoke as well. It was a lot of disbelief," said Angela Wines, Hardeeville Police Department.
The officers with the Hardeeville Police Department say this is the biggest building they have seen go up in flames.
“I think this was the first time that, you know, this department, especially in a long time, has dealt with something that large, so that’s not something we deal with every day, but it went pretty well," said Officer Dustin Creel.
The officers called for the fire department and other agencies, but they knew it was serious and they needed to act quickly.
“No one in the building actually knew at the time that the building was on fire. When we got there, of course a majority of those folks were in their rooms sleeping and had no clue that this building was actually about to go up in a blaze," Jonah Jenkins said.
They started knocking on doors and screaming for people to get out of the building.
“I remember watching officer Wines grabbing kids that looked like they were probably two, three-years-old, you know, obviously taking them away from the building; Officer Tyson beating on doors like I’ve never seen him beat on doors before," Jenkins said.
“A lot of people were scared of course," Officer Tyson said. "Knocking on their door at 4 o’clock in the morning. They are sleeping telling them that there’s a fire or smoke; telling them to get out of the room. A lot of people were all over the place trying to grab certain things, certain valuables.”
Sergeant Jenkins says his partners put their lives on the line that night. He's glad to have them on his team.
“I would do it again, and I guarantee everyone standing around me would do the same. Whether or not we saved lives or the firefighters saved lives or those folks saved their own lives, the fact was that we didn’t lose any and that’s, obviously, what’s most important," Jenkins said.
Everyone in the building made it out safely. Some officers were taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation.
Volunteers are helping to feed and provide clothing items to those who were left with nothing. The Red Cross is also helping people find homes.
WTOC caught up with some of the people who were displaced. They tell us they’re just thankful to be alive and that the community supports them every step of the way.
"I was the last one to go to sleep at about 1 in the morning or so. Next thing you know, I woke up to people banging on the doors yelling ‘Fire, Fire!’
Now, they’re figuring out what’s next.
“It didn’t hit me until about a day or two after because it’s like, we can’t go home, we can’t go relax and do what we normally do. It’s just hard because we came out here to start over and have a better life, and now everything is gone.”
“It’s horrifying because I have nothing now and it’s a nightmare, and I still feel like I”m in a dream, but the thing that keeps me calm is helping others," said Cynthia Parker.
It’s a situation both Parker and Elizabeth Bransteitter say has changed their lives and their families forever.
“Just trying to get back on our feet the best way we can, and we’re not from here so I don’t know what resources are out here or where anything is really, so it’s just kind of hard, but thankfully, the community is coming together and helping us.”
Though both are hopeful things get better, they can only take it day by day.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.