Local News

Lifelong Friends Describe Jumping to Escape Fire

Posted October 5, 2007 6:51 p.m. EDT
Updated October 6, 2007 11:27 a.m. EDT

— Two women who survived an apartment fire in Carrboro by jumping from their second-floor balcony believe they lived for a reason.

Kristin Pietrowicz and Susan Thorne were lifelong friends and had known each other since they were 4 years old when they took an apartment together at the Highland Hills complex at 180 BPW Club Road.

On Sunday, Sept. 30, their building burned to the ground. Another woman died and 20 people were displaced by the blaze, whose cause investigators think they may never be able to determine.

"It was probably the scariest moment of my entire life," Pietrowicz said.

"I'm still having nightmares," Thorne added.

The two said they woke around 1:45 a.m. to find their entire apartment crowded with flame and smoke.

"It was so smoky, I couldn't talk. I couldn't see her (Pietrowicz), I couldn't see the cat, I couldn't see anything," Thorne said.

"I have a green sheet hanging, and the whole thing was glowing orange," Pietrowicz said.

The women quickly learned the severity of the danger they were in.

"I started complaining, 'My feet are on fire, my feet are on fire! They're so hot, they're burning!'" Thorne said.

Pietrowicz said she realized she and Thorne would have to act to save themselves.

"For me, I knew that we weren't going to make it out of there if we didn't jump," she said.

"She's like, 'Susan, we have to go,''' Thorne said. "She took her blanket and her cat and just kind of went over the railing."

Thorne followed – and just in time.

"I swear to God, she (Thorne) hadn't even hit the ground yet, and our porch was engulfed," Pietrowicz said.

The two women were transported to UNC Hospitals with broken bones and spinal injuries. They were listed in fair condition and recovering on Friday.

The women carried their pets when they jumped from the apartment, but neither they nor their friends have been able to find the cats since then.

Pietrowicz, a barista, noted the ironic timing of her injuries: She ran her first marathon the morning before the fire.

"I've had two surgeries on this foot where the doctors are picking the woods out of my innards," she said.

Thorne, a school teacher, said she has a new lesson to teach: "How important it is to know fire safety."

The two said their friendship helped them survive what could have been the most devastating event of their lives.

"If it wasn't for Kristin, I would probably be in bed sleeping. She saved my life," Thorne said.

"We made it through this together. That's why you jump: your friends, and you want to live another day to see each other," Pietrowicz said.