WIS Exclusive: Survivor of Columbia apartment fire speaks out

Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 7:12 PM EDT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A survivor of the Tropical Ridge apartment fire who was rescued by firefighters spoke out in a WIS exclusive.

The fire resulted in the death of an Irmo fire fighter and left 19 people without a home last month.

The Columbia Fire Department (CFD) ruled the fire an accident and said it was caused by unattended cooking material near a stove top.

According to CFD, 28-year-old Raven Dubois was one of two tenants rescued from the fire.

WIS spoke with Dubois’ mother and grandmother who said they watched in horror as the fatal apartment fire was broadcasted on live TV.

They didn’t know at the time one of their own was trapped inside fighting the smoke and flames.

Inside unit 1408, Dubois was held hostage by a growing flame and unable to open her second-floor window where firefighters were in sight.

She said she passed out twice before a team of firefighters kicked down her door and pulled her to safety.

One surgery and eight nights across two separate hospitals later, Dubois now sits in recovery under the watchful eye of her family.

In all, 12% of Dubois body sustained second and third degree burns with a years’ worth of recovery and additional surgeries anticipated.

“The fire was just like, burning all over me. Like, it was burning all over my chest. It was burning me in my face. It was burning all on my legs and feet and private areas. And the pain was so unbearable,” said Dubois. “I couldn’t stand the pain but I was so scared that I was going to loose my life. Like, I just kept on telling them I do not want to die, I do not want to die.”

Dubois has since launched a GoFundMe to pay for ongoing medical expenses and cost of living as she remains homeless at no fault of her own.

”We know that a fire fighter lost his life. We know that others were taken to the hospital and that they were injured. That should not happen in 2023,” said Attorney Todd Rutherford. “We can do better. That apartment complex should’ve done better and if they had done better, we don’t believe that we’d be sitting here talking about this.”

In a statement from the Tropical Ridge parent company, they told WIS:

“Your request to our property management team for comment on the referenced fire was referred to me.  The Affordable Housing Preservation Corporation (a 501(c)(3) entity) is the sole member of AHPC Tropical Ridge LLC, the owner of the complex known as Acasă Tropical Ridge.  As you know, it is an extremely difficult time for all affected.

The safety and well-being of our residents have always been our utmost priority. We appreciate more than we can say the swift and diligent response of all local emergency services that responded to this incident.  Likewise, we were appreciative of the opportunity to join with the local community in donating to the Irmo Fire Foundation to support their brave fire professionals and the community they serve.  Firefighter Muller’s selfless service and sacrifice will not be forgotten.

The Columbia Fire Department announced yesterday the blaze started due to unattended cooking materials.  Because we were advised by investigating authorities that the building is in imminent danger of collapse and that no one should attempt further entry, we are taking necessary steps to obtain required demolition permits from local authorities.”

We have offered to relocate all affected tenants to one of our other properties in Columbia.  It is my understanding that those tenants wishing to relocate with us began moving in yesterday at Acasă Vista Towers, which is less than 3 miles from Tropical Ridge.  We also provided gift cards to affected tenants to help with their immediate needs.  To my knowledge, our property team has reached out to all affected tenants.

As far as reparations for Dubois, she said management offered her three free months at a separate property if she extends her lease to April.

She also said a $200 Walmart gift-card and verbal promise to replace her furniture was also provided.

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