Officials: 1 dead after Gaston Co. house fire



GASTON COUNTY, N.C. - An early morning fire killed a Navy veteran in Gaston County on Monday.

Investigators are working to try to figure out what sparked the flames at the Belmont home.

Even Erickson, a retired sailor and war veteran, was pulled from the home Venn Drive but later died at the hospital.

Neighbors said Monday was supposed to be a good day for Erickson. His neighbors said they were going to make sure he felt like a hero. They planned to take Erickson, who was in his late 70s, to a Veterans Day service.

A friend and neighbor went for a walk in the neighborhood and heard the smoke alarm blaring in the home.

He found Erickson inside, sitting in a chair with a fire in a trash can next to him.

"I picked him up like a man and toted him out, because he was a good friend of mine, a veteran," Barney Smith said.

Doctors declared Erickson dead at the hospital.

The fire marshal said the fatality likely happened because of some combination of health problems and the fire in the home. They are waiting on the autopsy to know for sure.

As Eyewitness News arrived at the scene of the fire on Monday, medics were working to try to save Erickson.

"My nerves have been torn up ever since," said Smith, "I have never seen anything like that."

Neighbor Barney Smith Sr. is also a veteran. Smith said it is fitting that this quiet servicemen passed away on a day of honor.

"It was probably the way he would have wanted to go. He was really proud of being in the service. He was proud of helping the country," said Smith.

Smith said he hoped to go to Veterans Day services Monday or at the least meet some friends who are also veterans, but after the death of his neighbor he cannot bring himself to leave the house.