IRMO, S.C. (WIS) - Two days before Christmas, 35 people were left homeless by an apartment fire in Irmo.
The Irmo Fire Department says they faced a horrific scene when they arrived at River Oaks Apartments on Wednesday afternoon.
“Our nightmare when we pull up on a fire is having a fire blowing out of the roof on all sides of the building and having people hanging out of windows and that’s exactly what we showed up to,” Operations Chief Sloane Valentino said.
Despite being on vacation, community activist Tina Torres heard about the fire and immediately started reaching out to her contacts to organize donations for the families impacted before the holidays.
“I know what it’s like to have to stand in a food line to get food, I know what it’s like to live in a shelter. I know what it’s like to just basically have everything taken from you unexpectedly, especially with what they’re experiencing currently,” Torres said. “So my goal, my, my passion has always been to be there for others in need. Let them know for just this one moment, it is rough but we’re gonna get through it.”
Torres is in contact with half a dozen of the families impacted -- including the family of the woman who was forced to jump out of her third-floor window after dropping her small children to bystanders below. Torres says the children -- a 1-month-old and 1-year-old -- are being cared for by a relative while their mother is in the hospital.
She is asking people to donate Thursday by going to Dance South Community Arts Center at 6108 Two Notch Road from noon until 6 p.m.
According to her post on Facebook, they are collecting clothes for newborns and kids, shoes for kids and adults’ sizes three to 13, toiletries, winter coats, and blankets.
She said they are also accepting cash donations, food items and gift cards -- not only to help feed the families who lost their apartments but also to help support the people who opened their homes over the holidays to help them.
“We want to make sure it’s not a hardship for anyone,” Torres said.
The River Oaks Apartment manager, Valerie Anderson, said there has been an overwhelming response from the community to help these families.
However, in addition to the clothes and Christmas gifts they’ve already received for the families, she said one of her residents’ top concerns is where they are going to stay after they can no longer stay in the accommodations the American Red Cross arranged for them.
Torres said they are still looking at setting up other ways to help these families, but for now, they just need any help they can get.
“It’s just a very sad feeling, especially when you have children. You know when children are looking forward to Santa Claus and they’re looking forward to seeing what may be underneath the tree, even if it’s just two items or three items, the excitement is there,” she said. “And to know that you’ve worked really hard to be able to do those things and to have it snapped away from you or snatched away from you at that very moment, it’s frightening.”
Dance South Community Art Center will continue to host a donation drive for these families. For more information on when their next drive is or how to help, click here.