VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – With the smell of smoke still lingering in the air, Madelyn Filio, 19, and her boyfriend Robert Gay, 21, are overcome with emotion.
“It’s kind of sad being that this was our first apartment together,” said Filio.
The memories they started making when they moved into Indian Lakes Apartments just three months ago are now overshadowed by the devastation from the fire that tore through their Virginia Beach complex two days after Christmas.
“It just happened so fast and everything was in flames,” Filio said.
The couple said they lost about 80 percent of their belongings in the fire including clothes, furniture and some Christmas gifts, but not all was lost.
They and the rest of the residents who lived on Yellow Knife Trail in the complex are alive, and they’re thanking one man – a stranger – they said was riding his bike when he saw the flames and started knocking on doors alerting them and several others.
“We were watching a movie, twisting his hair,” said Filio. “All of a sudden, we hear bang, bang, bang, bang.”
Neighbors in the apartment complex were scrambling to get out as flames quickly spread from unit to unit.
With only a few minutes to escape, Filio and Gay said the young man helped them get some of their belongings out of the building.
“We just want to find him and hopefully he sees this message,” Gay said.
Fire officials said more than a dozen units are a total loss. Investigators tell News 3 the blaze started by accident because of fireplace ashes that were not properly thrown out.
Now, ash and debris are what’s left inside their home.
“We were actually pretty shocked when we came in,” Filio said. “Everything downstairs is completely crashed by the ceiling, ash, water damage. The whole floor is covered in ash.”
Despite the devastation, the couple is grateful to the man, because they said they didn’t hear any smoke alarms go off during the fire.
They’re now asking for help in finding the person they said likely saved their lives.
“We really appreciate you for all the help because without you…we were about to take a nap, actually,” Gay said. “Without you banging on the door, who knows what could have happened.”
After losing so much, they remain hopeful they’ll be able to reach out to return a favor to a stranger.
“We want to thank him deeply,” Filio said. “He saved our lives, honestly.”
Fire officials were unable to determine if the complex had working smoke alarms. Calls to Indian Lakes Apartments were not returned.