Neighbors: 'Boom' preceded fire that killed Rock Hill man

adouglas@heraldonline.comJanuary 9, 2014 

— Neighbors described hearing an explosion seconds before flames engulfed a home in Rock Hill’s Boyd Hill neighborhood Thursday, killing a 98-year-old man and severely burning a woman.

Fred Cathcart died in the blaze at his one-story home, his family told The Herald, and his female roommate was taken to a burn center in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Officials at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center confirmed that Alice Crockett Wilson, 53, was admitted to the Burn Center there shortly after 3 p.m. She was listed in serious condition Thursday evening.

Cathcart’s family and friends said Wilson lived with him at 1132 Hoyle St., where the fire broke out.

Gloria Stowers, Cathcart’s daughter, was on the phone with one of her sisters, Addie Lowery, who lives next door to their father, just before noon when she heard a “boom” through the phone.

Lowery said, “Oh my God! My house is shaking!” Stowers said.

Seconds later, Lowery ran out of her home to check on their father, who was reportedly in his kitchen, just steps away from Lowery’s house. The phone call was dropped, Stowers said, and she knew something was wrong.

Wilson had just returned home from the store when the fire or explosion happened, neighbors told The Herald. She had stopped to talk to a group of men sitting in a yard near her house.

She had a bag from Dollar General, where she’d bought lemonade, cookies and popcorn for Cathcart, said Johnny Burris, who lives nearby.

Just minutes after watching Crockett walk home, Burris said, he saw Cathcart’s house “explode,” and a “ball of fire” blew the roof and chimney into the air.

Burris said his first thought was that there was little chance anyone could have survived the blast.

Charlene Young lives next door to Cathcart, her great-uncle. She heard the “boom” and called 911. She said she told a dispatcher, “Just get me some help! The house blew up! One side is gone!”

The cause of the fire was still under investigation Thursday evening.

Rock Hill firefighters were called to the fully-involved fire at 11:55 a.m., Battalion Chief Rusty Myers said. Smoke could be seen for miles.

By 12:45 p.m., the fire appeared to be under control and crews were on standby, dousing hot spots with water. About 25 firefighters worked to contain the blaze, which appeared to have destroyed the home. Four fire engines and one Rock Hill ladder truck responded.

Some 15 minutes later, a U.S. Postal Service worker continued her route past the burned home as dozens of neighbors stood by, watching. At one point, the mail carrier stopped to hug one of Cathcart’s family members who was crying.

Family and neighbors described Cathcart as a friendly man who frequently walked around his neighborhood, talking to people and collecting cans to recycle and sell.

He was a “handyman,” family members said, who knew a lot about car and lawn mower repairs and had a sharp memory.

Cathcart worked for nearly 30 years in the J.P. Stevens Industrial Mill in Rock Hill. He attended New Hope United Methodist Church on Aspendale Road, near Heckle Boulevard and Hollis Lakes Road.

Stowers, his daughter, said Cathcart was in good health and still did his own cooking. He had no major health problems, she said, and only took one daily blood pressure pill.

The house destroyed in Thursday’s fire was the home Stowers and eight of Cathcart’s other children grew up in.

In recent years, some family members had offered to help Cathcart move to a more comfortable place – perhaps to an assisted living facility – but he was “so content there” in his house, Stowers said, so he stayed.

Stowers, who also lives nearby, saw her father nearly every day. She would spend time with Cathcart – driving him to the grocery store or going through his mail to make sure bills were paid.

She had planned to stop by the home later in the afternoon to bring him soup and Ensure drinks, she said.

Young said her great-uncle often dropped in to check on her.

In the close-knit Boyd Hill neighborhood, Cathcart was “a friend to everybody,” Young said. “He’s going to be missed.”

Anna Douglas 803-329-4068

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