East Spencer tenant recounts escape from burning apartment

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 18, 2016

By Shavonne Walker

EAST SEPNCER — Herman Chawlk said adrenaline kicked in and he surprised himself when he had to force a door off its hinges in order to escape a fire at his North Long Street apartment, located behind Jones Barber and Beauty Shop.

When a fire began in a breaker panel at the building, the fire traveled up the wall and reached the upstairs apartment where Chawlk, his girlfriend and her 5-year-old son were inside. The three couldn’t get out so Chawlk told his girlfriend to go out the barber shop door downstairs. When the door was locked, the couple realized the only way out was to break the door.

“I hit up against it with my shoulder about three times and it tore away from the frame,” he said.

Chawlk said he unlocked a glass door and eventually the three found themselves outside on the front porch of the barber shop. Another tenant, a woman, was also able to get out with her dog.

Chawlk said when he went outside the building, owner the Rev. John Jones, was trying to douse the flames with a water hose. There was a delay in calling the fire department, Chawlk said, as Jones insisted they could put the fire out.

Chawlk said he eventually called 911. East Spencer, Salisbury, Miller’s Ferry, Spencer, and Union fire departments responded, as well as Rowan County Rescue Squad.

Acting Fire Chief Josh Smith said the electrical fire was related to a ground wire connection. The apartments had minor fire, smoke and water damage. But were mostly not livable because the power was cut to the building.

Chawlk said the American Red Cross put them in a motel for a few days and some friends provided them a hotel room for the past two days, but he’s unsure where they’ll stay after.

Jones said he was able to put the fire out with the water hose before the fire department arrived and there was no damage to the barber shop or the other business located beside it.

Fire did damage a building connected to the barber shop. He said he didn’t understand why fire crews removed all three electrical meters from the base.

Jones said he can’t move any tenants back into the apartments until Duke Energy checks the connections. The Rowan County fire marshal inspected the building. Jones had to hire a licensed electrician who assessed any damage to the meters while Duke Energy replaced them.

Duke Energy also told Jones the county had to perform an inspection, pay the re-connection fees and upgrade the breakers.

A building inspector found a wire on the outside of building that was not protected that needed to be covered. A final check of the building was completed Friday to bring the building up to code, Jones said.

He said some of the electrical sockets didn’t have covers and the breakers had to be changed. Jones said he was assured that once he passed the inspection his tenants could return and the businesses could re-open.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.