GARY, Ind. – After spending months in the line of fire in Iraq, a soldier was awaken his first night back to find his bedroom in flames.
Hours after being greeted by his family to an emotional homecoming Aug. 14, Army Pfc. Nick Crawford was jolted out of bed by his girlfriend's screams of "fire!"
Andrea Melendez's clothes caught fire as she hit Crawford, trying to wake him up as the room burned around them.
"She pretty much saved my life," Crawford told The Times of Munster for a story Wednesday. "Now she's my hero."
Disoriented and choking on the thick smoke, Crawford broke some windows, hit the floor and then crawled to the stairs as his stepfather tried to douse the fire with an extinguisher. He and Melendez bolted from the house just as firefighters pulled up.
But they arrived too late. The house and nearly all the family's possessions were destroyed. The family was renting the house and did not have insurance.
Everyone survived unharmed. Gaylia Somers, Crawford's mother, said she's relieved her son is alive, but is exhausted after months of worrying about his well-being.
"We are just happy Nick got out," she said. "I'm ready for this roller coaster to stop. I want to get off ... There comes a point when you just can't cry anymore."
Crawford was scheduled to report back for duty Thursday at Fort Stewart (search), Ga. A soldier with the 3rd Infantry Division (search), he spent several months in Iraq, sometimes guarding supply lines under fire.