RIDGEVILLE, SC (WCSC) - Bricks are charred, the roof is gone and nearly every possession the Ritchey family collected over the years is destroyed, but 90-year-old Ralph Ritchey and his wife are alive.
"Thank God for neighbors," said Ritchey, choking up at every word.
Ridgeville firefighters say smoke started pouring from the Ritchey's garage around 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Frank Williams and his 18-year-old son noticed smoke coming from their garage and they, along with a friend, raced to the couples front door to get them out of the house.
"As I was going over there I saw the flames getting really big and I was like 'oh my God,' I got to get Mr. Ralph and them out of the house before something bad happens," said Williams.
Without thinking about his own safety, Williams rushed to the Ritchey's front door with one goal in mind.
"My number one priority - I knew I had to get them out of that house," said Williams.
And he did just that.
After first pounding on the door, then knocking it in, Williams searched the smoke filled home for the Ritchey's. The rescuer says the smoke was so thick he had to take two quick breaks to catch his breath outside before finally finding the Ritchey's.
"Neighbors and the fire department literally dragged my wife and I out of bed in our pajamas," said Ritchey, who said there are no words that will be able to truly thank Williams and his son for what he did.
When Ridgeville fire chief Jack Kirlin arrived with four trucks, the Ritchey's were safe in the yard but their rental home was being eaten by flames.
"The garage was blazing," said Kirlin. "Flames were coming out of it. It was real hot."
The fire chief never recommends running into burning homes but he says in this case, Williams' judgement call paid off.
"It's a tough call," said Kirlin. "I don't want to see other people rush into a house and wind up becoming fatalities themselves but I will have to say in this case the heroics of these gentlemen... got them out alive."
Kirlin said the blaze started in the garage before spreading through the home. It was extinguished around 3 a.m. and hot spots were doused well into the morning.
The Ritchey's are fine, but their home was destroyed and their two cats died because of smoke inhalation.
The Old Fort Fire Department and The Dorchester County Fire Department also responded to the scene.