A 62-year-old Bluffton man escaped uninjured from a house fire Thursday after being prevented by a neighbor from trying to re-enter the home to save a cat.
The Bluffton Township Fire District responded about 10 a.m. to a house fire in a neighborhood behind the Home Depot store on Sawmill Forest Drive.
Firefighters arrived quickly and extinguished the flames at about 10:30 a.m.
The man, whom neighbors said was home at the time of the fire, looked disheveled and disoriented as he sat on a gurney being attended to by EMS technicians and Beaufort County Sheriff's deputies.
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Deputies and an unidentified woman later helped the man to a sport utility vehicle and was driven off.
A woman, whom neighbors identified as the homeowner, looked distraught and declined to be interviewed.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Fire district spokesman Capt. Randy Hunter said the home is likely a total loss.
Smoke from the fire could be seen from Kroger grocery store off U.S. Highway 278.
Firefighters arrived on scene and encountered heavy smoke and heavy fire, Hunter said.
Neighbor Jim Carson said he arrived home from a trip to Home Depot to find flames shooting from the house and the man standing in the front doorway.
"He's a cat with nine lives," Carson said of the man whom he said had been run over during his life and suffers from numerous health problems and appeared to be heavily medicated.
"He was there at the door and wanted to go back in the home to save a cat," he said. "I grabbed him and said, 'You can't go in there.' Smoke was coming out the door like crazy. Fortunately, a sheriff deputy and ambulance showed up. The whole back of the house is gone."
Nearly an hour after the fire began, Chandra Barton — who said she's a friend of the couple — emerged from the front of the house with a cat cradled in her arms.
"There's the cat," Carson said.
"There's two more," Barton remarked, who said she was taking the cat to the vet. She is no relation to this reporter.
The home is owned by Linda Matras and Douglas Gibbs, according to online Beaufort County property records.
"I feel bad for them. It's a sad thing," Carson said. "They're such nice people."
American Red Cross volunteers from the Palmetto Service Center in Bluffton were on scene assisting the couple.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.