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2 men killed in Charlotte construction fire called boss while trapped

Two men — Demonte Tyree Sherrill and Rueben Holmes — were killed in the massive fire that consumed an apartment building in South Park Thursday, according to their supervisor.

Charlotte Fire Department fire chief Reginald Johnson confirmed at a press conference Friday that the remains of two people were recovered Friday morning. He said Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner’s Office would verify the identity of the victims and notify their families.

Johnson said firefighters who tried to rescue the two men, who were on the sixth floor, had to call a “Mayday” because they became trapped on the same floor due to limited visibility.

“Everyone did the best they could,” Johnson said. “I think they did beyond the best they could.”

Rueben Holmes, left, and Demonte Tyree Sherill, right, were killed in a construction building fire on May 18, 2023 in South Park, Charlotte.
Rueben Holmes, left, and Demonte Tyree Sherill, right, were killed in a construction building fire on May 18, 2023 in South Park, Charlotte.

Holmes called his boss and friend Keith Suggs for the last time at 9 a.m. Thursday from the construction site where Holmes had been installing windows and doors in two new apartment buildings for the past month.

“He told me he was on the sixth floor, the building was on fire, and he couldn’t get out,” Suggs told The Charlotte Observer in a phone call.

South Park fire victims

Holmes, 58, of Huntsville, Ala., was one of two employees of KS Windows and Doors of Atlanta who died during the mammoth blaze Thursday.

Sherrill, 30, was a father of four, loved ones told WSOC, the Observer’s news partner.

“I’m still in shock,” said his mother, Onita Sherrill. “Numb really. Numb about the whole situation.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation. Johnson said the fire was accidental and started in a spray-foam insulation trailer at the construction site. So far investigators have not been able to determine what caused the initial spark.

Fifteen other workers were rescued, including a crane operator who was stranded 160 feet in the air for more than an hour, with the crane threatening collapse. He was rescued by Charlotte firefighters. No fire personnel were injured.

On Friday, Suggs was searching for his friend’s family to let them know Holmes had died.

“I just need them to call me,” Suggs said. “I’m not the kind of guy who leaves town just because that man is gone. I need to do everything I can to let his loved ones know what happened.”

Mayor Vi Lyles thanked first responders for their effort and extended the city’s condolences to the two families.

Lyles named Sherrill, and said the city grieves with his children and loved ones.

“His family said he was a hard worker, a loving father, and a family man,” Lyles said.

She did not identify the second man, but said the city would do whatever it could to support his loved ones in their grief.

Johnson said the fire is one of the largest Charlotte has seen.

“We seldom have fires of this magnitude,” Johnson said. “We haven’t had a fire like this in decades, if ever.”

He said Charlotte Fire has been on the scene ever since the fire began Thursday morning.

“This magnitude of fire is very rare, not just in Charlotte but anywhere,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Johnny Jennings said. “To see the flames and the smoke that came out as a part of this fire is something that I have never witnessed before.”

Fire Chief Reginald Johnson, far right, answers media questions following the fire department’s efforts extinguishing the five-alarm fire that tore through a construction site yesterday in South Park.
Fire Chief Reginald Johnson, far right, answers media questions following the fire department’s efforts extinguishing the five-alarm fire that tore through a construction site yesterday in South Park.

South Park construction fire

The five-alarm fire caught at around 9 a.m. and grew, relentlessly, for about an hour. Fueled by stacks of wood on the construction site, the fire reached temperatures above 2,000 degrees, Johnson said at a news conference Thursday.

More than 90 firefighters, including from five neighboring departments, flocked to the SouthPark Towers area. Stray flames and fiery debris still whipped around the area — near Fairview Road and Piedmont Row Drive — at about 1:30 p.m.

As officials gained control of the flames, a man approached officials near the collapsed garage asking for information about his brother, who had been live streaming while he was stuck in the building. The stream showed him being engulfed by flames, the man told reporters.

A man who appears to be Sherrill went live on Facebook for about a minute at 9:20 a.m. Thursday, streaming video of himself and another man.

”I’m at work in a building on fire, and I can’t get out,” the man who appears to be Sherill, who is holding a rag to his face, says.

Smoke can be seen in the video, and the men can be heard yelling for help.

Suggs says after he got the call from Holmes, he hung up to call the project superintendent. “My guys are still up on the sixth floor,” he says he told him.

A crane operator tried to reach them, Suggs said. But by then the smoke was too thick for Holmes and Sherrill to see the crane’s baskets.

Mill Creek Residential, the developer for the apartment complex that caught fire said Thursday its first priority was the health and safety of the people working at the apartments and the surrounding area.

“We are deeply concerned for their well being and will continue to follow the direction of the first responders on site to address the situation,” company spokesman Peter Jakel said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with the missing and injured individuals, and their loved ones at this time.”

The issue of construction safety has recently been a significant concern around fast-growing Charlotte.

On Jan. 2, three Charlotte construction workers died and two others were injured when scaffolding they were on collapsed The three who died — Jose Canaca, Gilberto Monico Fernández and Jesus “Chuy” Olivares — fell about 70 feet while working at a construction site on Morehead Street, near uptown Charlotte and Dilworth.