Couple killed in Buncombe cottage fire identified

Julie Ball
The Asheville Citizen-Times

Authorities have released the names of a Florida couple found dead in a summer cottage following an early March 16 fire in the Broad River community.

Steve Lee McKnelly Sr., 52, and Lourenda Ann McKnelly, 51, were found in a cottage off Auten Circle in the Broad River community, according to Terry Gentry, Buncombe County deputy fire marshal.

A preliminary autopsy shows the couple died of smoke inhalation, Gentry said. The body of a dog was also found with the couple inside the cottage.

The McKnellys are from Florida and were vacationing at the cottage at the time of the fire, Gentry said.

Firefighters were called to the cottage shortly before 12:30 a.m. Neighbors heard popping noises similar to gunfire and spotted the flames, authorities have said. The first caller thought the flames were coming from a brush fire, according to Gentry.

“Before (firefighters) got here, somebody called and said it was the house,” Gentry said. When they arrived, the structure was “fully involved.” The fire was too heavy to try to get inside the cottage.

When firefighters arrived, the cottage was “fully involved.”

“Even if we would have known somebody was inside, there was no way of making entry at that point,” said Brent Hayner, chief of Broad River Volunteer Fire and Rescue. “There wasn’t anything we could do other than control the fire and get it knocked down.”

After they put the fire out, firefighters discovered the bodies. The fire destroyed the one-room cottage and also spread to the woods in front of it.

Gentry said the cause of the blaze is still undetermined, “but there was a lot of electrical activity noted in the front.” It’s not clear yet if that sparked the fire.

In addition to Broad River, firefighters from Garren Creek, Bat Cave, Black Mountain and Fairview responded.