Edenton woman dies in house fire

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Firefighters battle flames at this house fire at 104 Valentine Street in Edenton where 29-year-old Artrice L. Heckstall died early Friday.

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By Miles Layton
Chowan Herald

Friday, October 13, 2017

EDENTON – A house fire in Edenton early Friday has claimed the life of a 29-year-old resident.

Police Chief Jay Fortenberry said Artrice L. Heckstall died in the fire that destroyed the home she shared with her mother at 104 Valentine Street.

“This is a terrible tragedy — terrible when we lose someone like that,” he said.

Fortenberry said there are no signs of foul play, but the fire is under investigation by the Edenton Fire Department, which along with the Center Hill-Crossroads Fire Department and Chowan County Emergency Medical Services, responded to the blaze.

No one else was injured in the fire which started around 12:40 a.m., Fortenberry said.

Neighbors said Heckstall’s mother, Monica Bonner, was able to get out the house safely. Bonner tried to rescue her daughter, but was unable to, they said.

Sam Downing, who lives on nearby Shenita Lane in Edenton, also tried to rescue Heckstall.

Downing said he was returning home from work at Perdue Farms in Lewiston when he saw smoke coming from the front of Heckstall’s house.  

Downing said he broke out a window and went inside to try and find Heckstall.

“I wasn't scared,” he said. “Adrenaline going – I didn't think about what I was doing, I just did it. I thought about my children, my house – what would I do if I was in this situation? I had to try,” he said.

Downing said as he went from room to room, he called out Heckstall's name but got no answer.

“You couldn't see anything inside,” he said. “It was so dark and smoky. When I started losing my breath, I came back out.”

Downing said he tried to get back into the house by using anything he could find to break out another window, but the fire intensified.

“By that time the flames were so bad that you just couldn't get in,” he said. “It's a horrible thing to see when you know there is someone inside and the house is on fire like that.”

Downing's niece, Veronica Downing, was among Heckstall’s neighbors who watched the tragedy unfold.

“I was scared. My dad (William) kept me calm. There was black smoke everywhere and the flames were massive,” she said. “There was nothing that my uncle or anyone could do – nothing.”

Veronica Downing said a lot of people watched as firefighters battled the flames consuming Heckstall’s home.

“It was a crazy situation with everyone standing alongside the opposite side of the street,” she said. “A lot of people were crying because they knew what had happened.”

Dorothy Blount of 108 Valentine Street said she was in bed when she heard the commotion next door. Blount said when she went outside, she saw a lot of flames and the smoke was very heavy. Her neighbor, Bonner, “was in so much shock” about what was happening, she said.

Blount said long after the fire trucks had left the scene, she was still awake and unable to sleep because of what she’d seen.