A family watched their $1.7 million dollar home on Lady’s Island burn to the ground Sunday, after trying to call 911 for an hour and a half.
“I kept thinking, ‘Well they’ll show up any minute. They’ll show up, they’ll show up. I know they’ll be here in 5 minutes,'” said Keith Guest who lived in the house with his wife and two kids, “Then 30 minutes goes by, ‘Well, I know they’ll be here in another 5 minutes,’ and then an hour goes by and I’m thinking, ‘Oh they’ll be here any minute,’ An hour and 15 minutes goes by… we just could not get through to them,” he said.
A lightning strike had ignited the fire in the roof. Guest initially put out a smaller fire upstairs with a fire extinguisher, but within 10 minutes, found more smoke and flames coming from the roof.
At the time, no one knew another lightning strike had also hit the 911 cell tower on the other side of the county, damaging a selective router and knocking out 911 dispatch from cell phones in Beaufort Jasper and Hampton counties.
“I was sort of trying to call other people that we knew, that live around the neighborhood,” Guest said, “Our phones just wouldn’t work to the 911, they would work to other people… and we said, ‘Can you call 911?’ And they would call us back and say no we can’t get through.”
Guest said they even tried calling a friend in Georgia, but the friend called back and told them Georgia dispatch couldn’t help with South Carolina.
“Luckily for us, a fireman who was out on his boat… going down the river, and he saw the house was in flames, and he knew the direct number to the fire station,” Guest said.
The house had been on fire for almost an hour and a half when firefighters showed up. From the time they got the call, it took them 10 minutes to get on scene, but with only one fire hydrant down the road and strong winds from the river, there wasn’t much they could do.
“It started collapsing and they had to back away for their own safety,” Guest said, “There wasn’t anything they could do.”
The house was a popular prohibition party spot built in 1929. After fixing it up for the 10 years they had lived in it, the Guests had just put it on the market for $1.7 million dollars.
However, they say the value isn’t what’s important.
“Everybody got out safe,” Guest said, “So everything else after that is… nothing right?”
The cell tower was out until 9 a.m. Monday morning, officials say they were waiting for a repair part from Jacksonville.
The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office says they are working on an actual phone number that people can call for dispatch if this should ever happened again.
Drone video provided by Robert Gecy,