HILTON HEAD, SC — Second-grader Lili Rigas was playing in her front yard last Wednesday night, doing her best to avoid her bath before bed, when she heard the high-pitched ring of a fire alarm coming from her neighbor's house in Hilton Head Plantation.
“She burst in, she said 'Dad, there's a fire alarm next door,'“ David Rigas said. “I just dismissed it. I figured somebody had probably burned a pizza.”
Lili went back outside. She knocked on her neighbor's door – no one home. She heard dogs barking inside. Then she saw smoke pouring from a vent above the kitchen window.
“She came back in and said, 'Dad, there's smoke,'“ David Rigas said. “This time I went over and saw the smoke...by the time we called the fire department, the smoke was getting pretty strong.”
Firefighters from Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue arrived and contained the fire in the kitchen. Smoke had wrecked appliances and ripped through the wall, causing almost $100,000 worth of damage, but it could have been worse, said Battalion Chief Michael Mayers.
“If she hadn't alerted her father, the fire could have taken the whole house,” Mayers said.
At lunchtime Friday, Mayers and his crew surprised Lili, 8, with a framed award at Hilton Head Island Elementary School for the Creative Arts.
On hand were Lili's parents, more than 160 of her second-grade classmates and the owners of the charred home on Myrtle Warbler Drive, Tom and Barbara Gloven, who were eating out at the time of the fire.
Lili's alertness allowed firefighters to arrive in time last Wednesday to save the Glovens' two cats and three Pomeranians: Charlie, Finn and Leo.
“Thank God for her that everyone's all right,” Tom Gloven said. “Leo just has a bit of a cough.”
The Glovens are staying at their other next-door neighbors' house until their home is repaired, which could be six months from now, Barbara Gloven said. An electrical switch next to the stove started the fire, Tom Gloven said.
Like many good deeds, Lili's heroism almost went unnoticed. It wasn't until Lili's teacher, Cindy Strandt, assigned the class a narrative writing assignment last Thursday that Lili shared her act with the school.
“Being a teacher, I asked if she went and knocked on her neighbor's door by herself,” Strandt said.
Lili is a familiar face to the neighbors, the Glovens said. She and her brother Nolan, 4, are often seen riding their bikes on the sidewalk – Lili's is bright pink, a recent gift from her grandparents.
“She's like our family representative,” Jody Rigas, Lili's mother, said.
The Rigas' moved from Atlanta a few months ago, but Lili's having no trouble fitting in at school, Strandt said.
Still, Lili's face was wide-eyed with surprise when her classmates mobbed her and her award in the cafeteria Friday.
“I didn't know all these people were my friends,” Lili said.