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When firefighters reached a home on Catalina Drive March 29, they knew immediately that the 911 call for help was legitimate.

Flames had engulfed the backyard, and were threatening the house. The blaze, which appeared to have spread from a nearby fire pit, eventually reached the attic, causing considerable damage to the home near Lake Norman, just west of Interstate 77 Exit 33.

What firefighters and investigators didn’t know were the whereabouts of one of the home’s inhabitants, 65-year-old Gary Hill.

“We get there and he’s nowhere to be found,” said Iredell County Fire Marshal David Souther.

“We looked around the yard, and even down by the lake.”

The search led them back to the house, where they found a cellphone and beer bottle near the charred fire pit. A closer look revealed Hill’s badly burned remains.

The Iredell County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the death, but it appears to have been accidental, according to Souther.

“There’s nothing to lead us to believe that foul play was involved,” he said. “At this point we really don’t know what happened. We just have a tragic accident.”

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