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Owner surveys damage after Mitchell Avenue fire

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — Neng Tou Vue and his wife Mary Vue had planned to retire in the two-story brick home at 105 Mitchell Ave. that burned Wednesday night.
“My heart was broken,” said Vue, who first saw the damage early Thursday morning. “I told my wife, ‘This is my dream house.’ ”
Tenants Shunta and Laketha Cowan and their four children, ages four to 13, escaped the 11 p.m. blaze with nothing but their pajamas, a cell phone, three dogs and four puppies. The Rowan County chapter of the American Red Cross is assisting the family, and next-door neighbors are collecting donated items.
Four-year-old Tashun Cowan alerted his family to the smoke coming from an upstairs bedroom closet, Laketha Cowan said.
City Fire Marshal Terry Smith said investigators confirm the blaze probably started in the closet, but the cause has not been determined. The fire is not suspicious, Smith said.
Smith and Chris Branham, the city’s code services division manager, walked through the house Thursday afternoon and determined about 75 percent of the second floor was damaged by fire and smoke.
The foundation and walls remain intact, and flames did not reach the first floor, Smith said, where smoke and water damage occurred. The tax value of the house is listed as $94,000.
Vue said his insurance company will determine whether he rebuilds or demolishes the 3,600-square-foot house, which he bought in 2002 shortly after another fire damaged the kitchen.
“I think they are going to say tear down,” said Vue, who is Hmong and moved to the United States from Laos in 1980.
Vue said he and his wife, who live in Spencer, spent five years and $85,000 remodeling the home, which was built in 1909 and had been divided into apartments. According to Rowan County, the couple received a permit in 2002 to convert the triplex back into a single-family home and repair fire damage.
They received another permit in 2006 for new heat and air. Final inspections for all work were completed in 2007.
Vue said they planned to move into the home, but he lost his job as a technician at a local plant. The couple were putting three children through college and tried to sell the house with no luck.
Eventually, they turned it into a rental property to generate income, he said.
In 2009, the couple bought the laundromat on South Fulton Street. Vue said they now own seven other rental properties.
Vue said he has offered one of their rental homes to the Cowan family but did not know if they will move in.
Jonathan and Shelley Palmer, who live next door, are collecting non-perishable food items, housewares, toiletries, toys, clothing and other items for the family.
The children wear boy’s size 4T or 5-6, girl’s size 6-7, boy’s size 10-12 and men’s size 32 pants and large shirts.
Donations can be left on the porch at 103 Mitchell Ave.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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