1 person confirmed dead in 7-alarm Watauga County fire

WATAUGA COUNTY, N.C. — Emergency crews were on the scene of a 7-alarm fire that destroyed a shopping center in Valle Crucis early Friday morning.

One person died in the fire at Valle Landing, a shopping center that sits between the Valle Crucis Elementary School and the Mast General Store at the intersection of Highway 194 South and Broadstone Road.

County officials said that six people lived in apartments above the businesses in the center.

The fire started around 6 a.m. and officials said that a family of four was among those able to escape, but that one man went back inside to look for another person.

Officials said a man was flown to the hospital with serious burns to roughly 40 percent of his body and that another person had not been found.

Watauga County Dep. Daniel Plane was first on the scene and scrambled to get people out of the flames.

"It was absolutely immense,” Plane said. “It was spreading very fast.”

When he got on the scene, a father had already rescued his children. The two men then worked together to get his wife to jump from a second-story window nearly 20 feet high.

“We did the best we could by trying to redirect her momentum as she fell toward the ground,” Plane said. “We struck her on the side and tried to divert that downward force."

Firefighters said that when they arrived on the scene, part of the roof had already collapsed.

Watauga County Communications tweeted that people were trapped, and later clarified that all fire and EMS personnel were safe.

Channel 9 reached out to the Mast General Store, which is next door to the building on fire. They said the building is part of the Valle Landing Shops and Restaurants.

Channel 9 spoke with Susan Mast, a neighbor who witnessed the fire.

“I was hearing booms and at 6 a.m. my neighbor called to say the Valle Crucis School was on fire. I know now it's not the Valle Crucis School, it's the Valle Landing,” she said.

“The smoke was coming into our house," Mast continued. "Our house is I guess two-tenths of a mile up the hill from there, and now that there's daylight, the smoke is the biggest thing in the valley.”

Chopper 9 flew over the scene around 9 a.m. and could see what was left of the smoldering shopping center.

Highway 194 South will be closed for a while because of the fire, and Broadstone Road was also being impacted.

The SBI has been called in to investigate after seven departments responded with more than 80 firefighters.

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