As she packed up her belongings into cardboard boxes and trash bags Christmas Eve, one Wyndemere resident was counting her blessings.
For one, her Hilton Head Island condominium was relatively unscathed by the Dec. 18 fire that destroyed at least six of the building's 18 units and displaced at least 14 families. For another, the woman celebrated Christmas early with family.
The most important blessing, however, was that the fire started before residents had fallen asleep and that the flames didn't spread even more quickly, said the woman, who wished to remain anonymous to maintain her privacy.
"Thank God it started at 8:30 (p.m.)," she said. "We were lucky."
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Until a structural engineer examines building 300 at 50 Yacht Cove Drive, no residents are allowed to return to their homes. However, they aren't without help on Christmas, thanks to the American Red Cross and an outpouring of support from the Hilton Head Island community.
One Wyndemere resident opened his home to some of the fire victims, board member Laurel Fasciano said. Friends and family have taken in most of the others, and the Red Cross is working to find residents new housing, she said .
"I think everyone has found someone they can depend on," Fasciano said. "And the Red Cross has really been terrific."
Catch 22 Seafood Restaurant and Steakhouse spent Tuesday preparing free turkey dinners for victims of the fire. At least eight families planned to pick up one, co-owner Bryan Bobinchuck said.
Other businesses, including Red Fish Restaurant, NEO, Coastal Bliss and Walgreens, have rallied behind employees affected by the blaze by collecting donations. Walgreens, which has collected about six bags of goods, is also offering an employee discount for donated purchases, a manager said.
Christina Dzendzel, co-owner of Coastal Bliss, said her shop has collected about three boxes of clothing and shoes for two friends who lost everything in the fire. Her co-owner was with that couple when they returned to Wyndemere on Dec. 18.
"There are no words," Dzendzel said. "I just keep saying, 'Take it one day at a time.'"
Many families have been overwhelmed with the community's response, business owners said. Strangers have even approached Dzendzel's friends, offering a helping hand, when she's taken them out to eat.
"It's a small community and people really put themselves in the victims' shoes," she said. "If it happened to them, they'd want people to do the same. It's just an act of kindness, really."
- Hilton Head Island condominium fire investigation continues, December 20, 2013
- Townhouse fire displaces 14 families on Hilton Head Island, December 19, 2013