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Two killed, two burned in Roanoke Rapids fire

Posted December 3, 2014
Updated December 7, 2014

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— A Halifax County man and his sister-in-law died early Wednesday in a fire at his home near Roanoke Rapids, authorities said.

The fire started in the kitchen or the living room of the home at 981 Davie School Road at about 6:15 a.m., said Chief David Padgett of the Davie Volunteer Fire Department.

Ernest Williams, 67, made it to the hallway before collapsing and dying, authorities said. His wife, Joyce Williams, 66, managed to fight her way through smoke and flames to the front lawn.

Joyce Williams' sister, Dora Patterson, 63, who was visiting from Rockingham for Thanksgiving, was found dead in a front bedroom, authorities said.

Caleb Ponton, a 3-year-old great-nephew whom the Williamses were caring for was trapped in his bedroom and was unconscious when firefighters found him.

"We did CPR on him and established a heartbeat and transported him to the local hospital," Padgett said.

Both Caleb and Joyce Williams were later transferred to the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, where they were listed in critical condition.

Relatives who a week ago had gathered at the house and celebrated Thanksgiving together comforted each other Wednesday afternoon as they picked through the charred remains of the house to find mementos to salvage.

"I stood there and I saw (firefighters). They started pulling the bodies out. It was terrible," said Lashuanda Burgess, the victims' niece. "You never think that its going to be you, and then it happens."

Family members vowed to stay strong for Caleb and Joyce Williams.

"We'll just be a little better about loving and appreciating each other," said Clarence Burgess Jr., Joyce Williams' brother. "You don't never know what's going to happen tomorrow or which family this could have been, but on this particular day, this is my family."

Investigators haven't yet determined the cause of the fire, but Clarence Burgess said he believes a space heater might have sparked the blaze.

The family has set up an address where anyone can send a donation to help the family:

CCB (Citizens Community Bank)
778 Old Farm Road South
Roanoke Rapids, N.C. 27870

To inquire about the fund, call the bank at 252-537-1265 and ask about the "Joyce and Ernest Williams fundraiser account" to donate money. Make checks/money orders payable to "Joyce and Ernest Williams Fundraiser Account" to send by mail.


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  • 678devilish Dec 3, 2014

    My condolences to the family and friends in their loss. I pray the two in the hospital will get better day by day.

  • jmoxley2010 Dec 3, 2014

    Space heaters can be a dangerous thing. Be careful this winter season when using them.