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Rescued from an Inferno

Trapped in his dorm room by a raging fire, he felt sure he was going to die.

By Jeremy Burchfield, Cleveland, Tennessee

As appeared in

What a racket! Were they never going to quiet down? Some of us are trying to get some sleep! I thought, pressing my pillow around my head. I’d come to college, tiny Lee University in eastern Tennessee, to get serious about my studies–I couldn’t say the same for some of the other guys in my dorm.

I rolled over in my bed on the second floor of Ellis Hall, and stared wide-eyed at the clock on the end table: 2:00 a.m. Unbelievable.

In the darkness, I could see my roommate, Aaron, tossing and turning as well. Outside the door people hollered, some kind of big ruckus. Everyone besides us was apparently having a great time.

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I was a freshman music major. It was early November, 1993, the school year only a couple months old. So much, still, to get used to. So many things I wasn’t sure about. I’d met a girl recently. We’d gone out on a few dates. But was she really that into me? Who could tell?

I didn’t even know if I was in the right major. I loved music, but not really Bach and Beethoven, the stuff I was studying in my music-theory class. I liked rock and roll, playing electric guitar. Back home in Alabama, friends and I had even started a band.

“God has a plan for your life,” my mother always said. “You just need to put your trust in him. God is always there for you.”

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe that, but it was hard to imagine that God was actually looking out for me personally. That he had a specific purpose set out just for me. I was simply hoping to pass music theory. Assuming I ever got to sleep. Now there was some kind of low rumbling noise. Enough already!

I switched on the lamp by my bed and stomped to the door. Aaron was right behind me. Someone was going to hear about this.

The doorknob felt warm, almost hot. Strange. I flung the door open. There was a whooshing sound. Then a blast of heat. Like I’d been thrown inside a furnace. “Fire!” screamed Aaron. He jerked me back into the room and slammed the door shut.

I couldn’t see. The heat had blinded me. I fell to the floor. “We’ve gotta get out of here!” I heard Aaron yell.

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My skin, my hands, my arms, my back. They all felt like they were on fire. The pain was excruciating.

I slowly stood up and took a deep breath, my lungs filling with smoke. I fell back to the floor, choking and coughing. Dear God, help. It wasn’t a conscious thought. Just a reaction. I knew the fire was coming toward us. I was going to die. I only hoped it would be before the flames reached me.

“Grab hold of my hand!” Aaron said. “We’re going to have to go out the window.”

His voice sounded like it was coming from a million miles away. I could barely make out the words. I felt a hand grab my arm, pulling me, dragging me, across the floor. With every breath I was taking in more smoke, my lungs burning.

“Get a chair,” Aaron said. “We need to break the window. It’s our only way out.” I remembered the air-conditioning unit in the window. He wanted to break the glass above it and…then what? We’d have to jump. It seemed crazy. But I knew Aaron was right. This was our only chance. I had to try.

I crawled across the floor, my hands searching for the chair to my desk that I couldn’t see. There! Got it. I dragged the chair back to where I heard Aaron... Crash! The window shattered. With my last ounce of strength I used the chair to push myself up.

“Let’s get out of here,” Aaron said. He scrambled out the window but I couldn’t do it. My legs collapsed from under me. I lay on the floor, barely conscious, struggling just to draw a shallow breath.