LANCASTER, Pa. -- It's difficult for Andre Kelley to say what he remembers about Feb. 18, the day a ball of flame engulfed him and almost took his life.
"I've had different dreams about it," says Mr. Kelley, his voice quiet and gentle. "It's hard to remember what was real and what wasn't."
He remembers going up a flight of steps. And "oceans and waves of flames."
After that, nothing, until he came to in a hospital bed, fighting to pull a tube out of his throat.
A 13-year city firefighter and lieutenant, Mr. Kelley, 34, was severely injured early on Presidents Day, trapped in a burning house on East Madison Street.
Mr. Kelley was hurt as he tried to rescue Pauline Stone, 39, and Leilani Roman, 6, who both died in the fire. Two other city firefighters were injured fighting the fire.
Recently, on a beautiful spring day, sitting on his sofa, holding hands with his wife, Lyondra, Mr. Kelley marveled at the events of the past few months as he began the slow march back toward a normal life.
Mr. Kelley was injured when a flashover rolled through the Madison Street home. That's an explosion of flames that occurs when everything in a room or area reaches its ignition point at the same time. It was so powerful one of his fellow firefighters jumped out of a second-story window to escape.
Mr. Kelley lost consciousness and was inside the home for the next seven minutes, as his fellow firefighters worked frantically to get to him and save him.
His protective gear shielded him from the flames but could not save him from the searing heat of the flashover, which gets so intense that even the smoke burns.
Mr. Kelley suffered second- and third-degree burns that covered most of his body, except for his face.
The healing was painful and grueling.
He underwent eight skin graft surgeries during his 10-week stay at Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Delaware County. Doctors harvested healthy skin from wherever they could find it on his body, grafting it onto the burned areas.
He lost 40 pounds from his burly, 220-pound frame.
In therapy sessions at Crozer-Chester and later at the Lancaster Rehabilitation Hospital, Mr. Kelley had to work at walking, buttoning his shirt and using a fork again.
Even the simplest tasks posed a hurdle.
"I remember being asked to roll over in bed and I couldn't do that," he says. "That was frustrating. I knew my strength, but it wasn't there for me."
By his side the entire time was his wife. Together since they were teenagers, married for five years and the parents of two children, the couple leaned on each other during Mr. Kelley's difficult recovery.
She took 12 weeks off from her job as a medical technician, staying at a hotel near Crozer-Chester to see him every day. Her grandmother, Barbara Andrews Chase, stayed with their children during that time.
Other family members, including Mr. Kelley's father, Marvin, a retired city firefighter, and stepmother, Stacy, and his mother, Carolyn Kelley, provided cheerleading and support, as did other family members, friends, firefighters and the couple's church, San Juan Bautista.
But Mr. Kelley had to fight most of the battle alone.
"There are no words that can describe what he's been through, and the pain," Lyondra Kelley says.
"A lot of pain," Mr. Kelley says, adding, "A lot of prayers."
His wife says, "He's gone through it with so much grace and humility. He's so strong. That's Andre. I didn't expect anything different.
"He gave me strength when I didn't think I could do it."
The couple were absolutely bowled over by the support that seemed to come from everywhere in the community.
Mr. Kelley received bags full of cards.
"People would write little notes, 'My flowers are growing. There are birds at my bird feeder.' There were Easter cards with beautiful Scriptures," his wife says, adding, "It definitely helped us get through a lot."
And then there were the fundraisers -- silent auctions, benefit concerts, church collections, restaurant donations.
More than $60,000 has been donated to a fund set up by city firefighters, money that will continue to pay expenses related to Mr. Kelley's injuries as he moves forward, and to help support his children's education.
"The support, and the prayers, and the letters -- all of that helped," he says. "It brought me out of where I was."
Mr. Kelley arrived home Wednesday in a motorcade that featured firetrucks and a limousine that was greeted by cheering people along the way.
He was overcome with emotion and still can't quite believe it.
"It was like a huge block party, for the whole city," he says quietly. "That was amazing."
He is now cherishing watching cartoons with his son, Andre Jr. He is looking forward to going to the eighth-grade graduation of his 13-year-old daughter, Ajanae.
Little things are the simplest delights, such as sleeping in his own bed, a special bed bought for him by a fund set up by city firefighters.
Or eating a sandwich his wife made, or the thought of barbecuing outside again, and enjoying all that summer brings.
Mr. Kelley will have to continue physical therapy several times a week and has a long road back. Doctors told him he has to rebuild his muscle, and it could take him up to two years to recover fully.
Down the road, he expects to return to the firehouse and his job there.
"I would love to go back," he says. "I don't see why I couldn't go back."
His family is taking things day by day for now, but Mr. Kelley has high hopes.
"I am," he says, "determined."