When Scott Schneider and his family arrived at grandma and grandpa's Spring Island home on Christmas night, they were greeted by the red and white lights of fire engines.
A fire turned Cleve and Wendy Meredith -- and their visiting relatives -- from the home on Little Neck Crossing, where the Merediths had lived for just a month.
The source of the fire is not clear, according to Bluffton Township Fire District public information office Capt. Randy Hunter.
The Merediths were home with their dogs, Harry and Gordy, awaiting a visit from their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren when the fire broke out at about 5 p.m. Everyone made it out of the house safely and no one was injured.
"For a while there, it looked like the whole house was going to burn down," Cleve Meredith said to one of firefighters who helped quell the blaze.
Three fire engines from the Bluffton Township Fire District were dispatched, along with an engine from Hardeeville Fire and Rescue, and a Beaufort County EMS unit.
"With a typical fire, we can go in and see it, and put it out," said Hunter.
But this fire burned between the walls and floorboards, requiring the firefighters to knock out the walls and ceiling near the fireplace, Bluffton Township Fire District Battalion Chief Vernon Edenfield said.
It spanned the first and second floors and the attic, and took 45 minutes to bring under control, Hunter said.
The Merediths had a fire going in their fireplace but noticed crackling noises seemed to be coming from around the chimney, too. About that time, the lights in their living room began flickering, Wendy said.
She and her husband thought it was an short electrical short or a burnt-out light bulb at first, so they tried changing the light bulb and flipping the circuit breaker before calling 911, she said.
The Bluffton Township Fire Department received the call from emergency dispatchers at 5:07 p.m. just as they were sitting down for Christmas dinner, Edenfield said.
It was the fourth call the department received Tuesday. The first two, at around 8 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., were stove-top kitchen fires in Heritage Lake and Bluffton, respectively. The third, in Pritchardville, was from someone doing outdoor burning, said Edenfield.
After the fire was over and the family was allowed inside, members of the Schneider family helped the Merediths carry piles books, paintings and family photo albums through the drizzling rain from the house to a stand-alone garage.
The Bluffton fire department was keeping an officer there overnight to make sure it does not reignite.
Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_Brian.