Into the flames: ‘We’ve got to get them out’

From left: Mississippi State students Colby Carpenter and Kyle McCullouch are being called heroes after the two helped residents at Avalon Apartments escape the burning building. (Photo by Logan Kirkland, SDN)
Staff Writer

As Mississippi State students Kyle McCullouch and Colby Carpenter prepared to celebrate a bachelor party weekend, McCullouch’s brother, Michael McCullouch, went to sleep on the couch in the unit at Avalon Apartments, but woke up due to a “flicker” of light outside.

In bed asleep, McCullouch heard his brother screaming his name. He was unsure as to why his name a was being yelled. He thought maybe someone had broken into the apartment.

McCullouch got dressed quickly and flung open the door to see his brother frantically running to the balcony.

Michael screamed for his brother to “Get water.”

Looking for anything to grab to fill with water, McCullouch ran out on the balcony where he saw a small fire on a chair on his balcony.

Looking up, he saw the flames engulfing the floor above him.

“Then I looked up and I saw how big it was and I was like ‘there is no way,’” McCullouch said. “We are not going to be able to stop it.”

The fire began shortly before midnight on Oct. 26 in building O at Avalon Apartments on Eudora Welty Drive. Crews from the Starkville Fire Department, Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office and the Starkville Police Department responded to the blaze. No other buildings were damaged in the fire.

McCullouch and his brother gathered what they could and woke Carpenter and got him out of his room. Abandoning their things, they darted out of the door. Through yelling and banging on a few doors on their floor, the group was able to warn some of the other residents.

“By the time we had gotten down the stairs we had burned pieces from the apartment falling on us,” McCullouch said.

As the group made their way to the parking lot, Carpenter and McCullouch could see the flames eating away at the building. For them, there was no question as to what their next move would be.

“We realized there’s people in here still,” McCullouch said “We’ve got to get them out.”

The group ran around the first floor of the building slamming on the windows surrounding the first floor. Their reasoning for targeting the windows first was because they lead directly into the room, making it easier to warn those in the building.

Going back to the corridor of the apartment, both McCullouch and Carpenter were met by a family telling them they needed to help get their disabled mother out of the back room.

The two went into her room and attempted to get her out of bed. They saw the electric wheelchair and dragged it over to the bed.

“It wasn’t working, so we picked her up and drug her out,” McCullouch said.

Their help didn’t stop there. Carpenter ran over to help Adaton-Self Creek Volunteer Firefighter Tim Rice assist a blind woman from the back stairwell who did not know which way to go.

When asked how they got the courage to go back to the burning building, Carpenter said it was all a reaction.

“There really was no thinking to it, honestly, you just kind of react in this situation,” Carpenter said. “We couldn’t sit there and watch the building burn, knowing people were in there.”

After first responders arrived, everyone in the building was accounted for and finally, they could relax.

As people label Carpenter and McCullouch heroes, they too were victims of the fire.

For McCullouch, he first realized what he had lost when he began thinking about what was in the apartment. He was preparing to apply for physical therapy school, when he realized all applications and observation forms were gone. Not only were those forms now gone, so were all of his clothes and belongings.

“I don’t have anything,” McCullouch said.

Carpenter said he started to think about the things he had lost. He lost clothes and other tangible items, but little things he lost he will remember most.

Those items included hand-written notes he kept from his fiancé, money he saved for their honeymoon and a hunting log where Carpenter would write down some of his favorite memories from hunting trips he went on.

“It really started to hit me when you start to think about all of the sentimental things,” Carpenter said. “That stuff you’ll never get back.”

In the event of this tragedy, McCullouch and Carpenter said the amount of support they have received from members of the community and the university has helped them immensely.

Even the night of the fire, residents came to them and others in the apartment with arms full of Wal-Mart bags with different necessities to help them get through the next few days.

“It’s been incredible,” Carpenter said. “The community has really stepped up.”

As the story made headlines, the young men were labeled heroes. While thankful for the praise, they feel like it wasn’t them who needs to be credited.

“I don’t really care for it,” McCulloch said .”It wasn’t really us, it was all God.”

As they thought more about the entire night of the fire, they realized how many things fell into place to help save people from the burning apartment building.

McCullouch’s brother, Michael, wasn’t even planning to be at the apartment that night. He was planning on driving up the next morning.

“If it weren’t for that,” McCullouch said. “I don’t think we would have made it and if we wouldn’t have made it, I don’t think anybody else would have known except maybe the first floor until it was too late.”

Not only was his brother in place to help wake the two, but also the people on the top floor heard them yelling and pounding on doors. Also, the people living in the apartment with the most damage were out of town.

“That’s not all coincidence,” McCullouch said. “That’s God working.”

Through all of the turmoil, both McCullouch and Carpenter said there are still people who need help.

Although there situation is better, the two said if people could still find ways to donate to the families affected, it would be greatly appreciated.

McCullouch and Carpenter both agreed this was an experience, which will make them appreciate life and how quickly it can be taken away.

“We never thought about what to do,” McCullouch said. “He just kind of got us to do it,”

“The whole thing is really just a miracle honestly,” Carpenter said.