Deadly fire breaks out at construction site in SouthPark area of Charlotte

CHARLOTTE — A massive fire broke out Thursday morning at an apartment complex under construction in the SouthPark area of Charlotte, killing at least one person.

Construction worker Demonte Sherrill, 30, died in the fire, family members said. Another worker is unaccounted for.


Charlotte Fire Chief Reginald Johnson said firefighters rescued 15 workers from the building, including one who was on a crane. Paramedics said he was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. They said two more people were evaluated but were not transported.

The Charlotte Fire Department said it Thursday night could not confirm any fatalities.

“The search process can be lengthy,” Charlotte fire tweeted. “We can not confirm a loss of life. This fire has been difficult for our community, and our firefighters continue to diligently work on scene to find answers.”

The five-alarm blaze happened on Liberty Row Drive near Fairview Road. The fifth alarm was struck just before 10 a.m.

By about noon, the majority of the flames had been extinguished, and firefighters were focused on dousing hotspots throughout the building.

Witnesses told Channel 9′s Joe Bruno that the fire started on the second floor. Construction workers said there were nearly 100 people working at the site at the time of the fire.

Another worker told Channel 9 that a foam-spraying machine caught fire and then spread to the floors above.

One user on Twitter, @TheHomeT, shared a video of the smoke plume emanating from the fire.

Charlotte Fire asked residents Thursday afternoon not to call 911 unless it was an emergency.

Charlotte Fire said 90 firefighters responded to the scene.

A crane operator was stuck in the cab high above the fire and fortunately, first responders later rescued the worker.

Chief Johnson said crews were working in high heat conditions of over 2,000 degrees.

The fire moved rapidly because of the amount of exposed wood at the site, the chief said.

Firefighters called two maydays because crews got trapped or had issues with accessing means of escaping, Johnson said.

There were no reports of injuries to the firefighters.

Johnson thanked fire departments in Pineville, Midland, Wesley Chapel, and Steele Creek for covering Charlotte calls while Charlotte firefighters were in SouthPark.

“I’m proud of the work that we’ve done here,” he said.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said the following roads were closed.

  • Liberty Row Drive
  • Fairview Road
  • Assembly Street
  • Barclay Downs Drive
  • Park South Drive

Some roads were later reopened.

Charlotte Fire asked anyone unable to locate family members who were working at the construction site to call 911. Police shared the same information, saying an officer will complete a missing persons report. They asked family to provide the person’s full name, date of birth, physical description and a recent photo.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools said the fire was expected to impact transportation routes Thursday evening. For a list of impacted schools and bus routes, click here.

‘Get out, get out’

By Thursday evening, not much of the apartment building remained. Many of the construction workers said there were crews on every floor of the building. They said when the flames sparked, the workers themselves tried to put out the fire. But because of how quickly it spread, it was impossible for the workers to get it under control.

At that point, they knew they needed to get everyone out. Workers told Channel 9′s Hunter Sáenz many people started yelling “fire” to do what they could to tell everyone to evacuate. But the flames just got too bad and they had to make a run for it themselves.

Sáenz spoke with Alejandro Quiroja, who was working on the building’s metal framing on the first floor. He said he made sure everyone on the crew he leads was together and got out, but was worried for others.

“I saw the building in flames and coming down and, I mean, it’s scary,” he said.

“We were working on the bottom floor so it wasn’t too bad for us, but for the guys working on the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh floor, I mean, they probably be worse, you know,” Quiroja said.

He described what happened when news of the fire spread.

“They started getting out, they started screaming ‘get out, get out because the building is on fire,’” he described to Sáenz.

Quiroja said many of the workers are without their jobs and their tools, since they were forced to leave those behind when they rushed out.

Sáenz was sent video taken close to the scene of the fire. The video shows debris and ash falling as the flames rip through the construction site.

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles shared a statement on Twitter asking everyone in the area to be safe and let first responders work.

“Charlotteans, please stay safe and refrain from calling 911 unless it is an emergency,” her tweet reads. “Our public safety officials are working very hard to control the 5-alarm fire in the SouthPark area. Everyone’s safety is of the utmost importance. We’ve been advised to stay away from the SouthPark area until further notice and residents who live nearby, please stay inside. Please allow @charlottefire, @CMPD, and MEDIC time to do their work and protect our city.”

CMPD said a reunification site was being set up at the police sky tower near Nordstrom’s on 4400 Sharon Road.

This is a breaking news story, check back for updates.

(WATCH: RAW: Fire consumes bus at north Charlotte scrap yard)

Andrew McMillan, wsoctv.com

Andrew McMillan is the Digital Content Manager for WSOC-TV.

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