- Associated Press - Saturday, August 29, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Christine Moore met her hero Monday morning.

Two months ago, Columbia firefighter Ethan Tucker forced in the door to 91-year-old Moore’s apartment on the third floor the Forest Pines retirement community. A three-alarm fire was blazing, and Moore could not walk.

“She was just laying in the bed looking at us,” Tucker remembered.

He scooped her up from her bed and carried her over his shoulder to safety.

On Monday, they reunited at a thank-you breakfast at the Comfort Inn hotel on Bush River Road, where Tucker and other first responders were invited to reconnect with the Forest Pines residents they helped save.

“He’s good looking,” Moore grinned after Tucker had put his arm around her.

Tucker was one of some 60 members of the Columbia fire department who responded to the blaze at Forest Pines in the early morning hours of June 17. They helped pull many of the community’s 110 residents from the burning building, working through the night until sunup to extinguish the flames. Only one person was injured and has since recovered.

“We were going through, open up a door - people had no clue what was going on,” firefighter Joe Strickland said. “They had no clue the extent of the fire. It was just kind of a sense of urgency that they didn’t really understand how important it was to get them down.”

Managers John and Charlotte Dashkavich were awakened by the fire alarm around 1:30 a.m., they remembered. They and other staff had already started evacuating residents, who range in age from 55 to 106, by the time the fire department arrived.

“Even though it was chaotic, they knew what they were doing and helped keep everyone else calmer,” Charlotte Dashkavich said of the first responders. “For a bad situation, it just really was miraculous.”

“How there was no loss of life was just a miracle to us,” John Dashkavich said. “God’s hand was on it all the way.”

Since the fire, more than 50 Forest Pines residents have been living at the Comfort Inn, where they’ll stay at least through the end of the year while the retirement community is reconstructed.

They ask almost every day when they can go back home, the Dashkaviches said.

But the hotel has become a home away from home for the Forest Pines residents.

“It’s been really fun and interesting to get to know them,” Comfort Inn sales manager Ashley Jordan said. “To have them here with us all this time, I know them by name. I have a relationship with them. We do cupcakes on their birthdays.

“It’s just really nice to have that family atmosphere.”

The Forest Pines community is family to 93-year-old Leroy Lewis.

“A little bit hectic; it’s been difficult,” he said of the past two months.

He’s looking forward to getting back to Forest Pines, where two months ago he was awakened by a firefighter who came into his room and helped him walk out.

He’s got “nothing but praise” for the ones who helped save him and his Forest Pines family.

“Just thanks a lot. Great appreciation for you fellows,” Lewis said. “You got us all out there, a bunch of old-timers like myself in the wheelchairs. And I don’t know how you all did it. But you did it, and you did it in a hurry without scaring anyone.”

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Information from: The State, http://www.thestate.com

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