Neighbors try, but can't, save WWII vet from dying in fire

Sep. 07, 2013 @ 04:59 PM

Beau Gardner tried desperately to save the life of his beloved neighbor Wayne Setliff Friday night as smoke from a fire filled a single-story, brick-frame house along Reid Road.
Gardner and another neighbor, Robert Walker, ran across the street from their own homes about 6 p.m. as dark black smoke billowed from the rafters of the house of the World War II veteran. Gardner, a 34-year-old student, broke the glass storm door that was locked on the front of the house, then kicked through the wooden main door. 
Noxious smoke poured out of the door as the wood cracked from Gardner’s kicks, so much that it pushed him back momentarily. When Gardner approached the door frame, he could only see about a foot of space below the smoke that had pushed up and filled most of the house.
His friend and neighbor, who had run to the rear of the house, could hear the 82-year-old Setliff inside saying that he couldn’t see and asking for help. But the fire and smoke was so intense that the two men couldn’t get inside, Gardner said, and by the time firefighters arrived, it was too late.
Setliff died in a fire that appears to have been accidental, though the investigation continues for the exact cause.
The Gardner family learned that his neighbor was in danger when his daughter dashed to their home after arriving at Setliff’s house. Setliff’s daughter said that her father had called her on her cell phone, saying that he needed help as fire and smoke engulfed the interior of the ranch-style house, Gardner said.
On Saturday afternoon Gardner stood in a yard across the charred home, comprehending what had happened to the neighbor whom he talked to virtually every day.  Setliff always was looking to extend acts of kindness to his neighbors, he said.
“I’m a big bluegrass music fan,” Gardner told The High Point Enterprise Saturday afternoon. “So he brought me bluegrass CDs. Or he would pick up DVDs for shows or movies for my daughter.”
The death of Setliff has upset the tight-knit neighborhood in the town in northeastern Davidson County.
“You would see him walking up and down the road about every day,” Gardner said.

pjohnson@hpe.com | 888-3528