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1 worker dead in massive 5-alarm fire at Charlotte, North Carolina, construction site

2 missing after Charlotte construction site fire
2 workers missing after massive blaze at Charlotte construction site 02:11

One worker has died after firefighters battled a massive, five-alarm blaze that broke out Thursday morning at a construction site in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The deceased worker was identified as Demonte Smith. His father confirmed his death.

A second worker remains missing. The fire captain told CBS News that on Thursday night, structural engineers deemed it unsafe for heavy machinery to operate overnight, so search and rescue efforts were paused until morning. Efforts resumed in the morning as machinery was used to search under debris. 

There are concerns that the entire structure is unstable and could collapse, the captain said. 

More than 90 firefighters were called to the scene and had not yet extinguished the fast-moving flames, said Charlotte Fire Chief Reginald Johnson at a news conference held hours after flames initially erupted around 9 a.m. ET. Exposed wood at the construction site allowed the fire to move quickly, reaching scorching temperatures well over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the chief.

Firefighters spray water at the scene of a massive fire in Charlotte, North Carolina
Firefighters respond to a massive fire that broke out at construction site near the SouthPark area in Charlotte, North Carolina, on May 18, 2023. Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Crews rescued 15 workers from the blaze, Johnson said. Fire officials previously told CBS News that a tower crane operator, who was working at the construction site when the fire broke out, was rescued and safely on the ground. The operator was transported to a hospital with injuries that are not life-threatening.

Johnson said two workers remained unaccounted for at the time of the news conference, citing confirmation from the construction site foreman.

Videos and images shared on social media show bright orange flames engulfing part of a large building complex in the North Carolina city's South Park neighborhood, an area known for its large namesake shopping center. Additional footage taken by CBS affiliate WBTV captured a thick plume of black smoke rising up from the burning structure. 

Huge flames are seen billowing out from the roof of the structure in a separate video, recorded by the Twitter user @mr_veal from inside a building across the street.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police announced multiple road closures in the SouthPark area in a tweet after the fire broke out. At least one road has since been reopened. A spokesperson for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools told WBTV on Thursday morning that schools had not been impacted by the blaze.

Fire crews will likely remain on scene for "a period of time," according to the chief, who said at the afternoon conference that responders had already called mayday — which happens when crews are trapped or otherwise have issues escaping — twice since arriving. Investigators will determine what caused the fire, he said. At this point, investigators believe it was accidental. 

Mill Creek Residential, which is developing the property under construction in South Park, said  in a statement to CBS News that the company was "gathering as much information as possible on what occurred" at the site.

"Our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of the people who were working there today and those in the surrounding area," the company said. "Our thoughts are with those who were impacted and their friends and family members. We are gathering as much information as possible on what occurred and will take the appropriate measures to address today's incident."

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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