Family escapes burning home on Mitchell Avenue

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 24, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — A Salisbury family escaped in their pajamas Wednesday night from a fire that quickly engulfed their rental house at 105 Mitchell Ave.
The father was burned on his leg while attempting to put out the blaze, which started before 11 p.m. He was treated at the scene and wasn’t taken to the hospital.
The man, his wife and four children escaped otherwise unharmed with nothing but the clothes on their backs, one cell phone, three dogs and four puppies. The woman identified the family only as the Cowans.
She said the fire started in an upstairs bedroom closet.
Her 4-year-old son first smelled the smoke and began crying, “Fire!”
His 13-year-old brother was in the bedroom watching a movie, and the two of them alerted the rest of the family members, who were all upstairs asleep.
Flames soon were coming from the closet, Mrs. Cowan said.
“I just wanted the kids out,” she said. “That was my goal — kids out.”
While she evacuated the children, her husband tried to douse the flames with water, then smother them with towels.
But the fire spread throughout the upstairs of the home, and when Salisbury Fire Department crews arrived, the structure was engulfed in heavy smoke and flames, Capt. Cory Orbison said.
The fire was declared under control by 11:29 p.m., but was still smoldering after midnight.
Three crews attacked the blaze from the interior, Orbison said. The cause is under investigation, he said.
The owner of the property, who recently renovated the house, was not at the scene. His name was not available at press time.
“Everything we own is in that house,” said Mrs. Cowan as she watched the structure burn from an alley behind the property.
The family moved into the house in September.
Authorities evacuated the tenants of the next-door apartment building.
“I was terrified,” said a neighbor who thought the fire might spread.
A large crowd gathered shortly after firetrucks arrived, filling the sidewalk and standing in yards across from the scene and down Mitchell Avenue. The house is located in the Fulton Heights neighborhood across from Chestnut Hill Cemetery.
Several neighbors made their way around more than a dozen emergency vehicles to the alley behind the house to find the Cowan family and ask if they could help.
Their dogs — two pit bulls with four puppies and a poodle — were safe inside the family’s car.
The Red Cross is assisting the Cowans, who are staying in High Point with Mr. Cowan’s father. They also have relatives in the Salisbury area.
Locke, Granite Quarry and Spencer fire departments also responded to the fire, as well as the Rowan County Rescue Squad. Franklin, South Salisbury and Faith fire departments were on standby.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.