A 62-year-old Bluffton man escaped uninjured from a house fire Thursday after a neighbor prevented him from reentering the home to save a cat.
The Bluffton Township Fire District responded at about 10 a.m. to the fire at 38 Sawmill Forest Drive behind the Home Depot.
The flames were extinguished by about 10:20 a.m.
The man, whom neighbors said was at home at the time of the fire and has medical problems, appeared to be disoriented. EMS technicians and Beaufort County sheriff's deputies attended to him as he sat on a gurney.
Deputies later helped him into a sport utility vehicle, and he was driven away. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Fire district spokesman Capt. Randy Hunter said the home is likely a total loss.
"Firefighters arrived on scene and encountered heavy smoke and heavy fire," Hunter said.
Neighbor Jim Carson said he returned home after a trip to Home Depot to find flames shooting from the house and the man standing in the front doorway.
"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's deputy and ambulance showed up. The whole back of the house is gone."
The cat was rescued later, though.
Nearly an hour after the fire started, Chandra Barton, a friend of the home's owners, emerged from the house cradling the cat in her arms.
"There's the cat," Carson said.
The home is owned by Linda Matras and Douglas Gibbs, according to 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 provided financial assistance to help the couple replace food and clothing lost in the fire.
The Red Cross has assisted more than 1,000 disaster victims in the Lowcountry since January, making 2011 a busy year.
"The Red Cross saw a 172 percent increase in the number of individuals assisted last month when compared to October of 2010," Red Cross regional CEO Louise Welch Williams said in an email. "The number of fire victims assisted normally doesn't start increasing until the weather turns cold. Therefore, we are concerned about this early spike in numbers."
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