Gawkers hampered firefighting efforts at destructive blaze
By Steve Huffman
Gawking motorists contributed greatly to damage that fire did to a house Sunday night.
The fire at 415 Candlewick Drive, just outside the Salisbury city limits, was apparently caused by a lightning strike to a dryer.
The house belongs to Eugene and Dee Addison.
Candlewick Drive is off N.C. 150, about a mile from Jake Alexander Boulevard.
Firefighters from Locke Fire Department arrived within four minutes of the 911 call, but containing the blaze was only one of their problems.
They lacked water.
Rusty Alexander, Locke’s fire chief, said smoke from the blaze attracted a stream of motorists curious as to what was on fire. He said the smoke could be seen as far away as West Rowan High School and said a number of motorists traveling Jake Alexander Boulevard detoured to take a look at what was burning.
Candlewick Drive is a dead-end street and the influx of motorists quickly jammed the narrow street, preventing desperately needed tanker trucks from getting to the burning house.
“It was like a parking lot,” Alexander said. “Some people parked in the middle of the road and got out and walked to see what was on fire. It was ridiculous.”
The closest fire hydrant to the burning house is about a half-mile away, near Candlewick Drive’s intersection with N.C. 150.
It took firefighters 30 minutes to run hoses from the hydrant to the house. A couple of tanker trucks managed to navigate the maze of motor vehicles blocking Candlewick Drive, but not nearly enough to provide the volume of water needed.
Alexander said tankers carry between 1,200 and 2,500 gallons of water, a small amount considering the magnitude of the fire. He said had other tankers been able to get to the house, there’s a good chance damage wouldn’t have been so extensive.
Some tankers sat stranded among a sea of cars belonging to the curious.
“They were sitting 12 houses down,” Alexander said of the tankers he could see, but which couldn’t get to the house to help.
Little but charred ruins remained of the house Monday morning.
Pursuing an emergency vehicle is illegal. Being nosey enough about what’s burning to prove a hindrance to fire trucks is tacky, but probably won’t result in a citation, local law enforcement officials said.
Salisbury police officers eventually blocked N.C. 150, which helped firefighters get to the scene.
Alexander said some of the motorists who turned onto Candlewick were trapped by rescue vehicles and couldn’t exit the street for three hours. He said fire trucks desperate to access the site even made use of a small dirt road ó Alexander referred to it as “an old pig path” ó to get to and from the site.
He said curiosity seekers are common when firefighters respond to any call. But the magnitude of Sunday’s turnout was extreme, Alexander said.
“I’ve never seen it that bad,” he said. “It was just a quagmire.”
Meanwhile, Eugene and Dee Addison, the homeowners, appeared shell shocked as they surveyed the charred remains of their house Monday morning.
Eugene owns Addison’s Barbering Styles on West Jake Alexander Boulevard. Dee used to teach at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. Their oldest daughter attends Peace College and their youngest is a student at Salisbury High.
“My whole house is gone, my whole house is gone,” Dee repeated, shaking her head as she spoke.
She was at home when the fire started, and said a tremendous “Boom!” marked the lightning strike. In no time, fire spread.
“We hit the floor,” Dee said of the actions that she and her daughters, Regina, 17, and Beatrice, 18, took. “It was like a bomb had gone off.”
She said that had they been 10 seconds slower, it’s likely they wouldn’t have made it out with their lives. As it was, no one suffered anything worse than some minor scrapes.
“By the grace of God we got out,” Dee said.
She said firefighters from Locke arrived quickly, with 17 trucks eventually gathered at the scene. But she said that with no water, there was little they could do.
“We had the representation here,” Dee said of firefighters from Locke, Salisbury, Franklin and South Salisbury fire departments who hurried to the scene.
“But we didn’t have the H2O, bro.”
She picked at the remains Monday, noting that had it not started raining shortly after the fire started, nothing would have been left.
A Chevrolet S-10 pickup that was parked in the garage was full of gas and exploded during the fire. A riding lawn mower and garden tiller were also full of gas and also exploded.
Dee said the irony of the lack of water is that Candlewick Drive is one of the sections that was recently considered for forced annexation by the city of Salisbury.
She said she attended meetings about the forced annexation to become educated about the matter. But after the fire, Dee said she couldn’t help but wonder if her house would still be standing if they’d been on city water and had a hydrant in front.
“If we’d been annexed, would this situation have been different?” Dee asked.
She said the Elizabeth Hanford Dole Chapter of the Red Cross is assisting the family, providing them rooms at an area motel. The neat Cape Cod-style was insured, the Addisons said, and they said they plan to rebuild.
But they said they can’t help but be a bit upset about events that led to the destruction of their longtime home.
“I thought gas was the precious commodity,” Dee said. “These days, no, it’s water.”
Staff writer Sarah Nagem contributed to this story.