05/14/09 — Governor honors firefighters who helped save historic site

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Governor honors firefighters who helped save historic site

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on May 14, 2009 1:46 PM

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Gov. Beverly Perdue accepts a Fremont Fire Department patch from firefighters who gathered to accept a signed proclamation honoring their work extinguishing a fire at the Charles B. Aycock Birthplace in January 2008. Ms. Perdue joked that accepting the patch did not violate any ethics rules. Pictured with the governor are Steve Evans, Danny Tillman, Ken Jones and Willie Person. Also honored but not pictured were Durwood Smith, Wesley Wooten and Wayne County Sheriff's Office Lt. Shawn Harris.

Gov. Beverly Perdue honored the firefighters who put out a fire at the Charles B. Aycock birthplace, and the detective who helped track down two alleged arsonists.

Ms. Perdue gathered the firefighters, Dirk Smith, Steve Evans, Danny Tillman, Ken Jones, Willie Person, Wesley Wooten and Detective Shawn Harris, in her office Wednesday afternoon.

The governor presented the group with a signed proclamation acknowledging their efforts.

"It's an important historic site for Wayne County, and eastern North Carolina," the governor said. "As somebody who really admires law enforcement and firefighters ... the folks of this state are mighty proud and mighty grateful."

Sheriff's Office Detective Shawn Harris, the lead investigator in the case, whose work led to the indictments of James Sean Suggs, 37, and Durwood Eugene Smith III, 18, of Wooten Street, was also honored.

Authorities have not released a motive in the burning of the turn-of-the-century governor's historic birthplace, a farmstead that includes a house, kitchen and outbuildings.

Ms. Perdue noted that although the response to the fire was quick on Jan. 24, 2008 firefighters used firefighting tools that would salvage as much of the historical artifacts as possible.

"Using more foam than water, and causing as little damage as possible," Ms. Perdue said. "We will be celebrating the fact that this site is finished and opened."

Pikeville Fire Chief Wesley Wooten said at the time of the fire that Antioch, Fremont and Pikeville fire departments all assisted in fighting the blaze.

The fire began at 2 a.m. -- "sleeping time," the governor noted -- and Wooten said it was under control around 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 24.

After the fire had been extinguished, the front of the home suffered the most damage, burning a charred hole into one side of the historic birthplace.

Although the honor came long after the fire had been extinguished, Ms. Perdue noted that 2009 is the 50th anniversary of the home's beginnings as a state historical site.