by: Greg Suskin Updated:
ROCK HILL, S.C. - Robert Jones decided to turn his photography studio on Crawford Road into a boarding house the day he saw a man outside with no shirt on.
"When they come to me, they all have a story. They have nothing else but the clothes they're wearing," Jones said.
On Friday, he stood outside the two-story house gazing up at the burned-out roof, and the yard littered with debris.
"It’s tragic. These people now have nowhere to go," he said.
Neighbor Patrice McKee heard the fire engines just after 1 in the morning, and stepped outside on her porch.
"The flames were over the roof. It was bad. Just bad," she said.
Then she saw the nine men who stayed there, all outside. She counted them to make sure no one was left inside the burning house.
"They were all out, but they were just cold. One of them didn't have any socks on," she said.
She fixed coffee and hot chocolate, and found them socks, stocking caps and blankets to keep warm, and they all sat together on her porch.
One resident told police he had walked into his room to find it on fire, but he didn't know how it started. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Jones required only a small rental fee from his tenants. He paid for the utilities, cable TV and everything else.
"I just told them if they have a job, and they're bringing home a check, they can stay here," he said. "I’m glad they're all OK."
Firefighters said the damage is $70,000, which is likely a total loss.
The American Red Cross is putting up the residents in a local motel for a few nights. Jones left work and drove them to the motel himself Friday morning.
"These guys had it made here," he said. "I did everything for them that I could."