Less than three hours after busting in a door and rescuing a man from a burning house, Leon Ernandez was under a truck.
The Edgemoor man saved his neighbor’s life from a fully-engulfed fire at about 3:30 p.m. Friday, and humbly returned to his house to fix his son’s pickup after help arrived.
“He would have done the same for me,” Ernandez, 54, said quietly as he wiped motor oil off his hands.
Ernandez, a mechanic at Carowinds, was on his way home and saw smoke coming from Buddy and Sandy Foster’s yard on Harmony Church Road. He thought someone was burning brush behind the house, he said.
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“I saw smoke rolling out of the back of the house,” Ernandez said. “When I came back around the front, I saw Buddy at the door.”
He called 911 and began kicking in the door.
Two girls who live next to the Fosters hopped off a school bus around the time Ernandez saw the smoke. They saw Buddy at the door, trying to get out, said next-door-neighbor Larry Chase.
“They said ‘Momma, momma, the house is on fire!’” said Angie Oneppo, who ran outside and saw Ernandez smashing in a side door window on the one-story home.
Ernandez said he saw Buddy fall by the door.
“About the time I started kicking the door, he just collapsed against the door,” Ernandez said. “I just about had it kicked in, but he was lying in front of it, and I couldn’t push it in. So that’s when I looked back and saw the 4-by-4.”
Ernandez smashed the door window and grabbed the unconscious man.
“I just went in there and drug him out,” he said. “I knew I had to get him out some kind of way.”
Chase also jumped into action, looking for Sandy Foster, 61. He thought she might be in a bed near the door.
“I tried to grab the bed and pull it over,” said Chase. She wasn’t there.
Firefighters arrived and found her in the home alive, but suffering from smoke inhalation, said Lando Fire Chief Eddie Murphy, one of four fire departments responding including Richburg, Fort Lawn and Lesslie.
The couple was transported to Wake Forest Baptist Health Burn Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.
The couple’s tearful daughter Brandie Kennington sat in her car making phone calls in front of the small white house late Friday afternoon.
Kennington said her family is thankful Ernandez was there to save her 63-year-old father’s life.
“If he would not have been (there), I’m afraid they would not be with us now,” said Kennington, wife of Wesley Kennington, owner of Sonny’s Dutch Mill restaurant in Rock Hill.
On Saturday, she said her parents were both stable, but in critical condition.
“My dad was burned about 40 percent of his body,” she said. “My mother suffered minor burns but significant lung damage.”
Chester fire officials said the blaze likely started in the kitchen, possibly from a pot on the stove, Murphy said. The fire remains under investigation.
Kennington said she is thankful for the firefighters, volunteers, neighbors and first responders who helped her parents.
“It seems like a nightmare,” she said. “But we know that God is in control.”
Tracy Kimball: 803-329-4072