Chief: Wind fanned the flames, allowed blaze to progress quickly

UPDATE: Officials say Tuesday that cause of fire remains undetermined.

PENDER COUNTY -- Sound-front homes. Docks. Vehicles. Boats.

All were consumed by a massive blaze late Sunday that broke out in southern Surf City. Monday morning, property owners and investigators sifted through the charred remains to try and determine what caused the fire that quickly spread from home to home as winds fanned the flames.

The fire reduced most of the homes to rubble, with only one still standing -- although it was mostly blackened. Embers also jumped across the water to neighboring Driftwood Drive, where there was evidence of small patches of fire damage.

Surf City Fire Department Chief Allen Wilson said seven homes were destroyed in the blaze that started around 6 p.m. Sunday.

“At the call, two homes were on fire," he said Monday morning.  "By the time crews arrived, it was three."

The fire department said wind contributed to the fire's quick progression.

Soon, it had spread across Atkinson Road.

Wilson said first-responders were able to keep it from advancing toward South Shore Drive, the main north-south artery in Surf City.

No injuries were reported, and Wilson said there's no estimate for the amount of damage yet.

“It will be significant,” he said.

Pender County property records indicate that the buildings along Atkinson Road, a development known as the Peninsula at Topsail, were multi-family homes. Tax records show that the appraised values of the properties and buildings range from the $390,000s to the $520,000s. Calls to the developer weren't returned on Monday.

'Heartbreaking to see'

Neighbors Alice Cavin, Patrick Miller and Jo Cohen watched the fire and it’s aftermath.

“I was coming from the beach and saw this black plume and ran to see which street it was on,” said Cohen, who lives on nearby Fairytale Lane. She asked the first person she saw to call 911.

“But is was so quick,” Cohen said.

She added that she could feel the heat from the flames from her home two streets away.

“It’s been so dry, Cohen said. “I was afraid to go to sleep last night.”

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Surf City Mayor Doug Medlin said he was at the scene of the fire Sunday until midnight. By then, the fire was mostly contained, he said. Pender EMS & Fire and Topsail Beach Fire Department also helped at the blaze. One large fire truck was stationed beside a fire hydrant on Atkinson Road through the night and into Monday.

"It's heartbreaking to see," Medlin said. "We were fortunate that only one of the homes was a permanent residence. The others were second homes."

He added that efforts to help the family and their two children, one of whom is in high school, are underway.

Investigation underway

On Monday, Surf City police blocked the entrance to Atkinson Road, which extends almost a half-mile along a peninsula into Banks Channel. But locals gathered on neighboring streets to survey the damage. They said ash has been seen floating all around the area.

Along with the sound-front multi-story homes, the fire destroyed boats, cars and docks.

Pender and Surf City emergency personnel, along with investigators from the State Bureau of Investigation and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and explosives (ATF), were at the fire scene Monday morning.

"The investigation could take a while," Medlin said. When they're done with their preliminary assessment, though, clean up will begin.

Contact the newsroom at 910-343-2384 or Breakingnews@StarNewsOnline.com.

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