By Dave Russell


No one was injured but a house is most likely a total loss after fire burned the top floor of a home in Cullowhee last Friday.

A call came into 911 dispatch at about 11 a.m. about a fire at 1009 Wake Robin Drive in Cullowhee, according to Jackson County Fire Marshal Michael Forbis.

There were three people living in the home, he said. 

James Edward Lewis and Vicki Lewis owned and lived in the home with their son, John.

James Lewis had taken John Lewis to work in Waynesville when the fire broke out, Forbis said.

“The wife was home and she smelled something that she said was ‘different,’” Forbis said. “She really didn’t know what it was. She called her husband, who wasn’t very alarmed, and when he got home, he said he smelled something. He would not describe it as smoke or anything burning, it was just odd. When he went upstairs and opened the door to the bedroom, the bedroom was totally full of smoke.” 

Opening the door gave the fire oxygen to grow, he said. 

“He said he did not see any flames at all, but by the time the fire department got there, there was smoke coming out of the house and it was a bigger fire,” Forbis said. “The fire department did a great job and they were able to contain the fire and pretty much all the damage except a little water damage is in the upstairs. Most of their clothes and belongings were fine except for the upstairs.”

John Lewis lived in the upstairs portion of the house, Forbis said.

Forbis did not ask the family about smoke alarms, but did not see any in the house, he said.

The cause of the fire is undetermined.

It started upstairs in the second story of the residence in the area of the bathroom,” he said. “We looked at all the possibilities but we could not determine an exact cause. We have the area of origin  to be the bathroom, but we could not rule out multiple causes, so it will be ruled undetermined. You had multiple receptacles, outlets, lights, low voltage wires from baseboard heaters ... we ruled out the water heater and a couple of other things, but we can’t rule out (cigarette) smoking or electrical.”

The Cullowhee Fire Department was first on the scene, arriving at 11:16 a.m. to the call that came in at 11:02 a.m., Forbis said. 

Cullowhee Fire Chief Tim Green messaged that the fire was under control at 11:59 a.m.

“It’s really sad,” Forbis said. “They’re 68 years old, they’re retired, they don’t have homeowners insurance. So basically, here they are with nothing. The house is a total loss. I would not think it is salvageable.”

The home sat on a .82 acre plot with a total taxable value of $113,590 near the end of Wake Robin Drive off Little Savannah Road.

Sylva, Balsam and Savannah fire departments offered mutual aid. Personnel from Harris EMS and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office were also on the scene.

A GoFundMe campaign has been set up for the family. It can be found by searching on “Lewis family House Fire” at