Fatal fire blamed on overloaded electrical outlet

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 22, 2011

By Nathan Hardin
SALISBURY — A Salisbury couple who celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary earlier this month died together in a fire at their home Thursday.
Authorities said an overloaded electrical outlet caused the fire.
Robert and Wanda Turner, both in their 80s, were killed in the fire at the intersection of North Church and West 12th streets, according to family friend the Rev. Dennis DeLong.
The fire started about 12:15 p.m., said Salisbury Fire Battalion Chief David Morris.
Several emergency departments assisted in battling the three-alarm fire at 1233 N. Church St.
Family members were on the scene Thursday afternoon, speaking with Salisbury officials.
DeLong said Wanda Turner, who was confined to a wheelchair, called him just after noon and was hysterical.
“She was screaming. You couldn’t make out on the phone what she was saying,” DeLong said. “We were not able to understand her, so we jumped in the car and put the flashers on.”
DeLong said he and his wife called 911 in the car, but dispatch told them emergency crews were already heading to the house in reference to the fire.
DeLong said the Turners celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary on Dec. 7.
Across the street from the fire, the Cherry family watched from their front porch.
“Our neighbor came over and said she thought the house was on fire,” Breanna Cherry said. “I pulled the screen. I just tried to get back. The screen was popping and cracking, and I could see smoke.”
Salisbury firefighters said they are continuing to investigate the fire.
“It was pretty intense when I got over there,” Cherry said.
She said she was overcome with emotion when her neighbor yelled about the fire.
“As soon as she said it, I just screamed because I knew she was handicapped,” she said. “It’s always quiet over there. The lights are always off. It’s always the same.”
It was a somber atmosphere at the intersection as dozens of neighbors and bystanders congregated along with emergency personnel to watch as smoke billowed out of the structure.
Family members slowly appeared at the scene where they hugged and talked with each other.
Firefighters manned hoses at all sides of the house, breaking windows and spraying inside.
“Crews immediately responded. We found heavy fire involvement in the front left portion of the structure,” Morris said. “We also had reports that there were occupants trapped inside.”
Morris said crews worked to rescue those inside, but met heavy fire.
“The structure itself was compromised by the heavy fire involvement, which made it difficult for fire crews to continue their interior attack,” Morris said.
Firefighters then changed their mode of operation and pulled crews outside to begin attacking the front of the North Church Street home.
Firefighters on ladders used a chainsaw to help ventilate the roof. Other crews worked to put out the fire at the front right window of the home.
Salisbury Fire Marshal Terry Smith said in a press release that the fire was accidental and started in an overloaded electrical outlet.
DeLong said Turner was the former pastor of the First Church of Nazarene, which is about a block from the gutted-home on 12th Street.
DeLong said Turner was pastor of a church on East Bank Street previously. But in 1969, he started the First Church of Nazarene.
DeLong is the new pastor at the church and has been for about the last six years.
He said he has known the Turners for 22 years.