Fire claims pets, all of man’s belongings

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 24, 2012

GOLD HILL — A Rowan County man, deaf since he was a youngster, lost three pets and all of his belongings in a Saturday morning fire that destroyed his mobile home.

The fire occurred close to 6 a.m. Saturday on Wyatt Grove Church Road, about a half-mile from Stokes Ferry Road. Matt Hughes, who rented the two-bedroom trailer, was house-sitting for a friend elsewhere when the fire occurred.

His dogs — a Rottweiler named M.J. and a yellow Labrador retriever named Buck — perished in the fire, along with a cat named Clover, which belonged to a friend.

“Three days before Christmas,” friend Nick Torzeski said Sunday. “It made me sick. … He was definitely not doing well yesterday. It’s a sad story.”

Rowan County Assistant Fire Marshal Aaron Youngblood said the main electrical control box for the mobile home malfunctioned and caught fire outside leading to destruction of the home.

Liberty Fire Department was first on the scene after it was fully involved.

Hughes was staying with his landlord Sunday night, and the Torzeski family in Concord planned to take him in over the holiday.

Hughes lived in the mobile home by himself, and Nick Torzeski said his closest relatives might reside in Maine.

“I’ll do whatever I can for him,” said Torzeski, a recent graduate of Catawba College.

Torzeski said Hughes told him Sunday that he was trying to stay strong. Torzeski, his brother and father will be providing Hughes with clothes and some gift cards for food. Another friend also supplied Hughes with clothes.

Hughes recently had helped a friend move into her home in Virginia. As soon as Hughes returned, he agreed to house-sit for another friend during the holidays, Torzeski said.

Torzeski said Hughes lost his hearing as a young boy after contracting spinal meningitis. Hughes communicates well through sign, reading people’s lips and the written word, according to Torzeski, who described Hughes as always looking to help others.

Torzeski met him through a mutual friend when Torzeski was a freshman at Catawba. This past May, when his parents moved to Concord from the Rockford, Ill., area, Hughes assisted in much of the unloading.

“He did enough work for five people,” Torzeski said.

It was typical of his friend to be doing a favor for someone else — the reason he wasn’t home Saturday morning during the fire, Torzeski said.

Hughes had an especially strong relationship with his dog M.J., who in adapting to Hughes’ deafness, knew the tricks on how to get his master’s attention.

“She was the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen,” Torzeski said. “… It was absolutely tragic.”

The cat belonged to the woman Hughes had just helped move to Virginia.

The Torzeski family has set up a website for donations toward helping Hughes become reestablished again. It can be found at