Hoke County man dies while battling fire

HOKE COUNTY Investigators say 62-year-old Robert Stephen was burning trash in his back yard on Friday when he lost control of the blaze.

Stephens lived off Highway 401 just outside of Wagram for more than 40 years.

Investigators say Stephens, a minister and a father of three, died in the backyard of his neighbor's home fighting a yard fire that got out of control.

"What happened was when the fire started over here that wind got up under it," neighbor Ronder Baker said. "You can tell where something was burning. It hit my property. What it looked like to me ... he was trying to put the fire out before it got to my house."

According to investigators, the wind-whipped blaze spread to the backyards of three homes.

They say Stephens used rugs to try to beat the fire out. There was also evidence that he used a hose to stop his neighbor's mobile home from catching on fire. His body was found next to that mobile home.

"That wasn't surprising that he tried to do that because he was just that kind of a person," Baker said. "What surprised me was the fact that he lost his life in the context of it."

Investigators believe the elderly man suffered a heart attacked and died. They say he fell in the yard and suffered burns over 80 percent of his body after his death.

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