Monday, December 9, 2002

7-year-old boy dies in Carrboro fire

Second-grader likely went back to help grandmother, neighbor says. The rest of his family escaped

By AISLING SWIFT, Staff Writer

CARRBORO, NC -- A 7-year-old boy died in a fire early Sunday, but his family was able to flee a blaze that began in the chimney and spread to a Christmas tree, firefighters and neighbors said.
Matthew Butler of 103 Fairfield Court, a second-grader at McDougle Elementary School, died in the fire in the Fair Oaks neighborhood, despite firefighters' attempts to locate him, Carrboro Fire Chief Rodney Murray said.The neighborhood, off Hillsborough Road near the elementary school, had power restored at 1:15 p.m. Saturday, according to neighbor Shri Burnell, but the Butlers had been using their fireplace for warmth before that.Burnell said she was awakened at 6:11 a.m. when she heard David Butler screaming to his wife, Patricia, "Get the kids. Get the kids.""I saw him running through his backyard trying to get water," said Burnell, who called 911.Butler told her he was awakened by his smoke alarm, ran downstairs and called for his wife after finding smoke near the fireplace, Burnell said. By the time Patricia Butler had gathered the three children on the second floor, Burnell said, the fire had spread from the marble fireplace to the Christmas tree the family had bought Saturday, and onto the carpet.Patricia Butler tossed their baby girl, 1 1/2-year-old Tristan, downstairs to her husband, according to Burnell, who said 5-year-old Jacob fled and jumped out a second-floor window, but Matthew disappeared."I brought over a ladder to get to the second floor because [David Butler] was yelling, 'My Matthew is in there,' " she said.She and David Butler dragged her ladder to a window into Matthew's room and helped Butler's mother, Alice, 77, who was visiting from Canada for the holidays. But halfway down the ladder, Burnell said, the elderly woman tumbled. She suffered head and shoulder injuries."She said she never saw Matthew because the smoke was so thick," Burnell said, adding that smoke billowed from the window. "We couldn't see. We already were choking from the smoke outside the window. It stung my eyes immediately."Afterward, a frantic Patricia Butler ran to Burnell's house and pleaded: "Please tell me my Matthew is here," Burnell said.Within six minutes of Burnell's 911 call, about 35 firefighters from Carrboro, New Hope and Chapel Hill arrived to find heavy fire and smoke engulfing three sides of the two-story home, said Murray, the Carrboro chief. They ran through the front door and climbed through a second-floor window to search for Matthew.But the flames were heavy, and the second floor started to collapse, so firefighters had to flee and fight the flames from outside, Murray said. About two hours later, Murray said, Matthew was found dead in the second-floor bathroom.Burnell said Matthew likely tried to run back to his room to help his grandmother.The family members suffered from smoke inhalation, shock and other injuries and were taken to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, where a nursing supervisor said they were treated and released. Burnell said Patricia Butler has relatives in Cary and likely will go there. Attempts to reach the family Sunday night were unsuccessful.The American Red Cross helped secure the home, which was gutted. No firefighters were injured, Murray said. The fire's cause is being investigated by Carrboro Fire Marshal Stan Foushee, who is being assisted by Carrboro Police and the Orange County Fire Marshal's Office."He was so small, a small, little thing," Burnell said of Matthew, whom she described as quieter than his "rambunctious" younger brother. "It's been devastating.""He loved arts and crafts, construction paper and markers," said Burnell, who gave him an easel and paper for Christmas last year. He also loved dinosaurs, she said, and had a Tyrannosaurus rex hanging from his ceiling.