Man dies in fire at boarded up Iredell County home

A man died after a home caught fire in south Statesville on Tuesday.

The Statesville Fire Department and the Statesville Police Department responded to the home, which is located along Old Charlotte Road, on Tuesday evening.

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Channel 9′s Dave Faherty learned the home caught fire shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday. Crews arrived to find smoke and flames shooting out of the home.

Firefighters learned 68-year-old William De Giovanti Shalima Watkins was trapped inside and pulled him out after arriving on scene. A spokesperson for the fire department said first responders tried to save his life, but Watkins died at the scene.

Investigators said Watkins’ death was caused by smoke inhalation.

Crews were able to get the flames under control within 20 minutes.

Friends told Faherty the home was vacant. Officials confirmed that information, saying the home was boarded up and had been empty for several months. There was no power running to it either. Friends said Watkins had struggled with homelessness in the past and was trying to find a permanent place to stay.

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The fire left extensive damage behind inside the home. Investigators believe Watkins started the fire inside but was trapped when it grew beyond his control. The temperature in Statesville was only in the upper 20s when crews arrived.

Carolyn Bailey lives across the street from where the fire started. She had seen Watkins going in and out of the abandoned home for weeks and called 911 when she spotted the flames.

“You got people sleeping in the woods and in the cold in this weather -- it’s sad,” she said.

Investigators ruled the fire as accidental.

David Thomas said he spoke with Watkins a few hours before the fire started.

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“He talked about how cold it was going to get,” Thomas said. “It was real cold and, I don’t know, it really tears my heart up to see anybody live like that. Most especially his age.”

Neighbors said Watkins was a veteran and used a walker to get around. It was still on the front porch of the home.

Fredrick Bryant considered him as family and can’t believe he is gone.

“The community is really hurt bad. And I, too, am hurt because he was a very nice guy,” Bryant said. “It hurt me when I found what happened to him.”

“During this difficult time, we wish to express our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of the victim,” the City of Statesville said in a statement. “Our thoughts and support are with them as they navigate through this trying period.”

(WATCH BELOW: Officials investigating possible house fire in southwest Charlotte)