Somehow, Alice Crockett Wilson survived.
The Jan. 9 explosion and fire that blew the roof off the house she lived in killed her 98-year-old housemate.
Wilson, 54, who has worked at the McDonald’s restaurant across from Winthrop University for decades, now faces a long, painful recovery at the North Carolina burn center where she has been since hours after the fire.
“She is looking at three or four months, at least, there, and then she will still have to recover after that,” said Sierra Walton, the girlfriend of Earl Crockett, one of Wilson’s three sons. “She was burned on her face and her hands and her leg.”
The burns to her face were severe, Walton said, and Wilson is facing several skin graft surgeries.
“The skin on her face is almost completely gone,” Walton said.
Wilson is listed in fair condition at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem. She has improved from the serious condition she was in when arriving at the burn center, but the trauma to her body was severe and the recovery process is long, her family said.
She underwent another surgery Friday.
“She is doing better, but it is going to be a long time,” Crockett said.
Wilson rented a room from Fred Cathcart at 1132 Hoyle St. in the Boyd Hill neighborhood just west of Cherry Road near District Three Stadium. She was a caregiver to Cathcart and had just returned from a trip to the nearby Dollar General store.
Rock Hill Fire Department investigators determined that Cathcart was trying to remove the top from a 25-pound propane tank, which he had hoped to sell as scrap metal. The tank was thought to be empty, investigators said, but Cathcart’s dismantling of the tank head released the gas inside, causing the explosion and fire. The fire has officially been ruled an accident.
The house was destroyed, and Cathcart was found dead inside. Wilson was found, screaming for help, outside the house by neighbors who saw and heard the explosion.
“She said that she was washing her hands and getting ready to pop some popcorn,” Walton said, “and then it exploded.”
Despite her own injuries, Wilson’s screams were for someone to help Cathcart, who she knew was still inside the house.
“All she knew afterward is that she was crawling outside,” Walton said.
The fire was so hot and covered so much of the home that firefighters could not immediately get inside to help Cathcart, according to a fire department report. After the fire was knocked down, firefighters rushed inside and found Cathcart by using a thermal imaging device.
In addition to the fight for her life that Wilson now faces, she lost all her possessions in the fire.
Wilson had worked for many years at the McDonald’s restaurant that is within walking distance of where she lived on Boyd Hill. Several of her co-workers said Wilson is a kind, giving person who is like a mother to younger employees.
“Since the fire, we have been worried about her and her being in the hospital,” Walton said. “But the other part is that when she gets out, she won’t have any clothes, no money – nothing.
“Nobody knows if she will ever be able to work again.”
The concern over medical costs and more has become so severe that Walton has looked into setting up donation jars at area stores.
“We are so concerned for her health right now,” she said, “but we also know that she has to start over with nothing.”