Marines stationed at Robins Air Force Base empty burning building

WARNER ROBINS -- Residents at the Sandpiper Apartments complex labeled three neighbors “heroes” Tuesday evening for emptying a building that caught fire.

Dan DeMuro said lightning struck the building, and flames began to lick the roof. The first reaction for DeMuro and two fellow Marines was to protect everyone.

“We started clearing it out -- banging on doors, kicking in doors, telling everyone to get out,” DeMuro said. To his knowledge no one was injured.

Jennifer Powell, a spokeswoman for the Warner Robins Fire Department, said firefighters were called to the scene in the 800 block of Leisure Lake Drive at about 7 p.m.

The fire quickly swallowed the building. Plumes of black and gray smoke could be seen for blocks. The fire, in a 16-unit building at the apartment complex, was under control by 9 p.m. An investigator will review the cause, Powell said, adding that the American Red Cross was on the scene to provide assistance to any residents displaced by the fire.

A lightning strike “is a possibility, but we won’t know for sure until the investigation is completed,” she said. DeMuro is based at Robins Air Force Base with Travis Romig and Cory Flowers, who helped empty the structure.

Mattie McDaniel, an 87-year-old woman confined to her bed, was one of the residents the Marines saved. They carried her on a seat cushion to a neighboring breezeway.

“At first I was mad because they kicked my door in, but I’m glad now because they saved me and my mom’s lives,” said Patricia McDaniel, Mattie McDaniel’s daughter who cares for her.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.