Fund established for survivors of Fuquay-Varina house fire that killed two

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comMay 15, 2012 

— The owners of a home in Fuquay-Varina where a fire killed two men last month have set up a fund to cover their funeral and burial expenses.

The survivors of the fire lost everything, said Gregory Newkirk, whose family owns the house at 128 Bridge Street.

“Everything was charred beyond recognition,” Newkirk said. “There was nothing salvageable.”

Meanwhile, police have ruled out foul play as the cause of the fire early Sunday, April 29, that killed Leroy Dunlap, 59, and Arthur Lee Harris Jr., 46. The two men were sleeping in the basement, closest to the origin of the fire.

Investigators are awaiting autopsy reports before making a final ruling, but preliminary findings indicate a space heater may have ignited the blaze, Fuquay-Varina police Capt. Bob Adams said.

Family members held a double service for Dunlap and Harris at the Trice Funeral Home last week, said Tonia Harris, who, with her husband, rented the brick, one-story house that sits on a slope facing Bridge Street. The basement living area where firefighters found Dunlap and Harris is on the back side.

When Tonia Harris’s mother died nearly two years ago, she decided to move into a bigger home so that she could care for her stepfather, Leroy Dunlap.

“I work at an assisted living home, so I knew what to do to take care of him,” Harris, 45, said.

It was a full house. Along with her stepfather, Tonia Harris’s biological father and younger brother also lived there.

Her oldest brother, Arthur Harris, lived in Raleigh with his wife and two children, but would drop in from time to time and crash in the basement.

“We are really close,” Tonia Harris said of her family. “I was like a mom to the children and everybody else after my mom died.”

Dunlap was wheelchair-bound and recovering from a stroke. Tonia Harris said she last spoke with him the night before the fire.

“He was still up watching TV,” she said. “I told him I would see him tomorrow after I got off work.”

Tonia Harris left that morning for work before the fire started. A neighbor called 911 just before 7:30 a.m. after spotting fire and heavy smoke coming from the house. Before firefighters arrived, family members who got out safely tried to re-enter the home for Dunlap and Arthur Harris.

“They tried everything they could to get Mr. Dunlap out the house, but the fire got so bad they had to get out,” Tonia Harris said.

Tonia Harris said she had last seen her brother the evening before. She and her husband were returning home from the movies when they saw him walking along Academy Street in Fuquay-Varina. She did not realize until after the fire that he had stayed overnight.

“My husband told me, ‘I think Arthur Jr. is in there,’” she said.

Tonia Harris described her oldest brother as a handyman who “could build anything.”

“He fixed cars, carpentry. He did roofing work for about 15 or 20 years,” she said. “He got along with everybody.”

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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