Fire guts 19th-century house

Arson suspected; house was vacant
Feb. 11, 2014 @ 08:04 AM

Someone intentionally set fire late Sunday night to an 19th-century brick house that once dominated the corner of Clark's Chapel Road and Ebb Smith Road, fire investigators said.

Firefighters arrived about midnight to find the house engulfed in flames, said Capt. Jason Robbins of the North Catawba Fire Department. By 3 a.m. the fire was out, but by then all that was left was charred rubble surrounded by the charred, thick outer walls and chimney, all fashioned from hand-made bricks made of local clay. Yellow fire tape outlined a wide perimeter of the nearly one-acre property as fire officials armed with shovels dug to look for clues. Assistant Fire Marshal Kevin Brown said the fire apparently was set at the rear of the house.

The sight left Donna Hicks, who grew up in the house with her seven brothers and sisters, shaken when she drove up Monday morning. Right behind her in another car was her brother, Ronnie Staley, also agitated by the sight that lay before them.

"Someone did this," Hicks said. "There hasn't been electricity here for years."

Their mother, Lillian Staley, bought the house in 1973, 13 years after her husband died. For the past five or six years the house has been vacant after Lillian Staley moved out to take care of an ailing son. She also decided she could no longer maintain it, Ronnie Staley said. Since then, the house, which is no longer insured, had been broken into several times. Several cars had been stolen off the lot, and copper had been removed from a trailer adjacent to the house.

Lillian Staley was hospitalized Thursday because of congestive heart failure, Ronnie Staley said. She was just taken off a ventilater. News of the fire will be hard for her to take, he said.

"She does not need to know this," he said.