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Two found dead after Chapel Hill duplex fire

The bodies of two people were found after firefighters battled heavy flames at a duplex building in Chapel Hill Friday night. The property owner said a couple in their 60s lived there.

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The bodies of two people were found in separate units of a duplex at 1816 Legion Road after what authorities describe as a suspicious fire Friday night.

Authorities haven't released the victims' identities, but property owner John McPhaul said he rented the duplex to Michael and Lesley Hirsch, a retired, married couple in their 60s.

McPhaul described the Hirsches as a "great couple" and called the situation "tragic." He said Lesley Hirsch told him they slept in different units because of her husband's snoring.

The cause of their deaths hasn't been released. The Chapel Hill fire and police departments and the State Bureau of Investigation have opened a criminal investigation into the fire.

"This is every landlord's nightmare, to have someone die in a piece of rental property," McPhaul said.

Firefighters said the duplex was engulfed in flames when they arrived shortly before 10 p.m. Four crews from Chapel Hill and one crew from Durham brought the blaze under control in about 15 minutes.

The cause of the fire and the location where it started haven't been determined. Neighbor Paul Long said a police officer knocked on his door Friday night.

"He asked me if I had seen or heard anything suspicious, and I said, 'No, I just smelled smoke as a I came in,'" Long said.

The Hirsches had sold their house in Florida and moved to Chapel Hill about a year-and-a-half ago, McPhaul said. He recalled that Lesley Hirsh was quiet, while Michael Hirsh was gregarious and had a long ponytail.

"His nickname was Pony Boy. And that what he'd say, 'Call me Pony Boy,'" McPhaul said.

The couple painted in water color, played bongo drums and did tai chi on the lawn, he said.

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Renee Chou, Reporter
Greg Hutchinson, Photographer
Anne Johnson, Web Editor

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