An Albemarle man died Friday in an early morning fire at what fire officials allege was an illegal boarding house.
Officials said a cigarette started the fire that claimed the life of 48-year-old Jerry Huneycutt, who died trapped on the second floor of a two-story house on West Main Street in the Stanly County city, 38 miles northeast of Charlotte.
While the fire has been ruled accidental, the town is investigating the house's owner, Richard S. Huneycutt, for a possible violation. The victim and the home's owner were not related.
Albemarle Fire Marshal Brian Taylor said in an interview the city had warned Huneycutt before.
The building was not zoned for boarding and it was not up to code, Taylor said. He said it did not have fire extinguishers, working smoke detectors or sprinklers.
“They were advised they could not operate this type of business,” he said. “We are looking into this, and there could be civil penalties.”
Richard S. Huneycutt said Friday that he was not running a boarding house. He said he operated the property as three separate apartments. He also said the apartments had working smoke detectors.
“They are making a mountain out of a molehill,” Huneycutt said.
The fire started Friday morning shortly after midnight. Smoke was pouring out of the second-floor windows by the time firefighters arrived. A passerby alerted four people living in downstairs rooms about the fire and called 911.
When news of the fire reached Betty Melton, Jerry Huneycutt's sister, it was like reliving a nightmare. Melton's father also died in a fire, 28 years ago this month.
“You can't imagine what it was like to get that news again,” she said.
Melton said at least five men lived in the house with her brother; all of them on disability. Her brother paid $400 a month to stay there.
“He was paying rent,” she said. “That should have bought him some protection. He should not have died there.”