Wheelchair-bound man escapes fire that guts home

POSTED: 11:20 AM May 14 2013   UPDATED: 7:39 PM May 14 2013
KINSTON, LENOIR COUNTY -

A wheelchair-bound man escaped a fire that gutted his Kinston home.

Joe Burchette, 67, was asleep when the blaze erupted at about 4 a.m. Tuesday in his house at 1408 St. James Place, investigators said. Burchette had his wheelchair next to his bed and was able to wheel himself out of his burning home.

"I got up to check it out and by the time I got to the kitchen I looked out the back door [and] the backyard was orange. So I figured I knew what it was," Burchette said.

Burchette's two Maltese dogs were still inside, but firefighters were able to save the animals.

"They were kinda frightened and confused. They knew something was going on but they didn't know what. So, they wouldn't come out on the deck but they stayed right there at the door," he said.

Burchette said it only took a matter of minutes before 35-40 foot flames were shooting out of the roof of his home.

"I sat here on the deck watching it burn," he said.

According to investigators, the fire started at the exhaust fan in the bathroom. The house has been deemed unlivable.

Burchette said he has lived in the home since 1979. He plans to rebuild it and move back in once the repairs are complete.

Officials estimate damage to the house at $80,000. Property inside the home is estimated to be about $20,000.