Firefighters had to hunt down blaze off interstate

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Staff report
A report of a fire Tuesday afternoon had firefighters scrambling to find the burning house.
A half-dozen fire departments responded to the blaze, which burned an abandoned house and kept firefighters busy for more than three hours.
A caller reported a house afire at mile marker 68 on Interstate 85.
“We knew there weren’t any houses on I-85,” said Mike Zimmerman, Bostian Heights fire chief. “We had to hunt it.”
Firefighters responded and eventually found the location by following the black smoke billowing up on the east side of I-85 near Mount Hope Church Road.
Firefighters found the fire at the end of Delta Street, a dead-end service road off Mount Hope Church road that parallels the interstate.
The one-story frame house was fully involved when the first crews arrived.
Zimmerman said neighbors reported seeing an older man who appeared to be homeless walking near the house Monday.
Firefighters were concerned that someone might be in the house, but they couldn’t gain entry because of the flames.
At that point, they called on Matt Beaver, an Atwell firefighter who has a grading business.
Beaver brought a track hoe to the scene and tore into the house.
“We made sure no one was in the house,” Zimmerman said.
Although the smoke was visible from I-85, the burning building was partially obscured by a tree line.
Zimmerman said traffic on I-85 appeared to move at a normal speed with little rubber-necking.
“I’m glad it wasn’t yesterday (Monday),” said Zimmerman, “with all that wind, there’s no telling where it would have gone.”
No cause had been determined Tuesday night, although the origin of the fire is considered suspicious.
An assistant fire marshal contacted the homeowner, who was out of town. His name was not available.
Zimmerman said the house had been moved twice during the widening of I-85. It was not connected to any utilities.
“There was a lot of debris around the house. … It looked like a junk hole,” Zimmerman said. “It appeared someone had been hauling brush, logs, furniture and junk.”
The South Salisbury, China Grove, Locke, Landis and Mount Mitchell fire departments assisted, along with the Rowan Rescue Squad.