A deadly fire swept through several homes in Ela Campground on Sunday, sadly killing a 16-year-old boy. The fire is now under investigation by a consortium of agencies including Swain County Sheriff’s Office and N.C. State Bureau of Investigations.
The fire was reported around 11 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29 in two units in Ela Campground. The flames quickly spread to a total of nine campers, with seven of them a total loss. A vehicle was also a total loss.
Swain County Sheriff’s Office confirmed 16-year-old Blake Lantz died on the scene in the unit believed to be where the fire started. He was a sophomore at Swain County High School, according to the school district. His brother, also a teenager, incurred injuries and was transported but is anticipated to make a full recovery, according to the sheriff’s office. Also in the home were a third brother and a mother who got out early.
The cause is still under investigation but believed to be from a heater inside.
“From our information, it was caused by a kerosene heater,” said Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran. “These boys got out and went back to retrieve two dogs and got trapped. The one is in the hospital went through a window, apparently, and escaped, and the other one just didn’t make it. I believe there was another boy and their mother in the home.”
Another resident was transported for lacerations and another had minor injuries and refused transport.
The units are extremely close to one another along the river in Ela Campground.
Bryson City Fire Chief Charles Bryson said two units were involved when the call was reported, and within minutes a third unit was involved. When responders arrived on scene, four units were on fire.
“We had it contained in about 45 minutes and under control by about 5 a.m.,” said Chief Bryson.
Within minutes, propane tanks at nearly every unit became involved and contributed to the amount of fire, Bryson said. Also complicating the response was the West entrance of the campground was initially blocked off.
Responding agencies also included West Swain, Alarka, Cherokee, Qualla, Sylva and Savannah Fire Departments, Swain County EMS and Bryson City Police Department.
The American Red Cross has been notified and representatives are anticipated to arrive today to assist, Sheriff Cochran said.
According to Chief Bryson, Ela Campground has found temporary lodging for the residents displaced by the fire. The county will also be reaching out to local churches for support to help those who lost their homes.
“At some point there will be some donation requests as far as financial assistance and clothing,” Sheriff Cochran said. “Swain County is a giving county, and right now we need to help our own.”