MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A fire tore through a Twin Cities townhouse building Thursday morning, forcing a man to leap for his life.

People could see the smoke for miles as the right half of the complex on West 144th Street burned.

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An ambulance driver was on the way to another city when he first saw the smoke at about 11:30 a.m.

“They followed the trail, found a structure on fire and found a fire victim outside,” Allina Health’s Jeffrey Lanenberg said.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

T.J. McCorkle, 20, was home alone and asleep when the fire started inside his family’s townhome, according to his mother, Theresa Crockett.

(credit: Theresa Crockett)

(credit: Theresa Crockett)

By the time he woke up, smoke was filling the room. He tried to open a door to escape but flames poured into the room. Badly burned, McCorkle decided to jump out of a second-story window.

Savage Fire Chief Joel McColl says McCorkle was alert when crews arrived, but he had suffered significant burns.

Firefighters first thought there were several people inside the building when the fire started, but McCorkle was the sole occupant.

“Not too often are you called in with potentially five to six unknown occupants,” Savage Fire Chief Joel McColl said. “Of course, our immediate concern is life safety.”

Neighbor and family-friend Finesse Kyles says she was “stunned” by the tragedy. She has known McCorkle for more than a decade.

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Kyles saw him on the ground after he jumped.

“I’m just praying for him,” Kyles said. “I feel so bad because I didn’t go over there where he was while he was laying there on the ground.”

McCorkle was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center where he is in serious condition with second- and third-degree burns all over his body.

(credit: McCorkle Family)

(credit: McCorkle Family)

He has a long road to recovery, but is expected to be OK.

“Just keep praying for T.J. and hope he gets better,” friend Amir McPhearson said.

The McCorkle family’s home is destroyed, including special-needs equipment that helped the victim’s younger brother, who has muscular dystrophy.

(credit: McCorkle Family)

(credit: McCorkle Family)

But his mother says those things can be replaced.

“Home–we can find a new home; clothes–we can get new clothes,” Crockett said. “I’m just praying to God that my son heals well and goes back to normal life.”

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No other people were hurt in the fire. Twenty people lived in the four-unit building.