‘Like a nuclear bomb,’ witness says after blast, fire level 6 NC coastal homes

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SURF CITY, N.C. (WECT) – “It was earth-shaking. I mean there was a big cloud, like a nuclear bomb had gone off,” Dr. David Lovern said of a devastating fire that burned seven homes in Surf City Sunday evening.

While it is undetermined what caused the fire, neighbors say they heard an explosion that sounded much like a gunfight.

“I didn’t know when the explosion happened, I thought ‘oh my gosh, what could it be’,” Lovern said. “I guess it was a large propane tank or something like that when the house when up. Then I could see, of course, the smoke and the fire and it was obvious of course what was happening.”

Crews from Topsail Fire, North Topsail Fire and Pender County responded to the home on Atkinson Road near South Shore Drive around 6 p.m.

“When our units arrived on scene there were at least three [homes] already burning,” said Surf City Fire Chief Allen Wilson. “Our crews went to work quickly to try to stop the progression of the fire. Unfortunately, the fire did spread to approximately six units.”

Authorities quickly began evacuating other homes in the area.

“I was going to save my boat, that was my first feeling and then I realized that people were trapped at the end of the peninsula,” said Tom Haether who was boating nearby. “So I went to the end of the peninsula, docked there, another boat showed up a little while later and we were able to get people off that wanted to leave and I got three people and a couple of dogs.”

As Haether took his boat past the fire, he said one of the propane tanks blew up and shot debris over the canal.

“I got out just in time,” he said.

Firefighters were still on the scene Monday morning, working through hot spots to ensure all flames were extinguished. Officials say the cause of the fire is undetermined but don’t consider it suspicious. However, the investigation is still open.

“Some firefighters will work their whole career and never see a fire half this big,” said Wilson, explaining the magnitude of the flames.

No injuries were reported in connection to the fire.

Six homes burned to the ground during the fire, while a seventh sustained damage.

Wilson said many of the homes involved in the fire were secondary residences and most were unoccupied at the time, though many residents were just getting back into their homes after destruction from Hurricane Florence last year.

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