Fires across region kill Hoke man, displace Harnett family

Fires across region kill Hoke man, displace Harnett family

20 February 2011

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USA — Fires raged across the Cape Fear region Friday and Saturday, threatening homes, displacing at least one family and taking the life of a Hoke County man.

Strong winds, dry conditions and warm temperatures caused what the National Weather Service in Raleigh called “explosive conditions” for fires that continued into the evening.

All region counties were under red flag warnings, the most serious type of warning issued for fire conditions.

In Hoke County, the conditions and an-out-of-control yard fire led to the death of a 62-year-old man, according to Freddie Johnson, director of Hoke County Emergency Management.

Robert Louis Stephens, of the 7400 block of Laurinburg Road, died Friday after succumbing to an unspecified medical emergency while fighting a yard fire that had spread into several neighboring properties, according to an incident report.

Stephens was attempting to extinguish the fire using throw rugs when he collapsed and caught fire, according to the report. He suffered burns to more than 80 percent of his body.

Stephens’ wife told investigators that he had several medical issues and had undergone open-heart surgery in 2006.

In Harnett County, at least one family was displaced after a grass fire off Rainey Drive spread into nearby woods and then destroyed two homes.

A family of four lost their home to the fire, a firefighter with the Anderson Creek Fire Department said.

In Cumberland County, fire departments were exceptionally busy through Saturday afternoon.

“It doesn’t take nothing but a gust of wind,” said Fayetteville Fire Commander Richard Bradshaw, who attributed many of the fires to carelessness.

Bradshaw said several fires were dangerously close to homes.

One of the day’s largest fires was on Jossie Street off McArthur Road. That fire spread to an illegal tire dump and strained city resources, which have been stretched thin combating fires inside the city limits, and assisting at fires in the county.

An emergency dispatcher for the county said there had been 35 fires as of 4 p.m., most of which were woods or grass fires.

All counties in the Cape Fear region had reports of fires.

In Bladen, Columbus and Robeson counties, officials with the National Weather Service in Wilmington said low humidity and gusts of wind upward of 20 mph caused the elevated fire danger.

Elsewhere in the region, the National Weather Service in Raleigh issued a news release saying wind gusts could reach upward of 30 mph.

That release said conditions mean that any fires would quickly spread and grow out of control.

Fires could easily be ignited by sparks or discarded cigarettes, according to the release.

Conditions are similar across the state.

A wildfire burning near Chimney Rock has scorched more than 1,200 acres and could grow more intense, The Associated Press reported.

More than 160 firefighters with local, state and federal agencies have been working to contain the blaze, which started Feb. 12. Officials say they have spent more than $174,000 fighting the fire. Its cause is still being investigated.

Hundreds of brush fires have been reported across the state this week.

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