BETTIE — A Down East couple lost everything they own in an early morning fire Friday, but were lucky to escape with their lives.
The home of Laurie and Cathy Willis, at 506 Highway 70 East, owners of Willis’s Appliance Repair and Upholstery, erupted into flames and burned so quickly the couple only had time to flee the inferno in pajamas. No one was injured in the fire and County Fire Marshal’s office is investigating.
Richie Hunnings, an off-duty Beaufort firefighter, had just left a friends house in Otway when he spotted the flames and called 911.
According to Otway Assistant Fire Chief Kristen Davis, the department responded at 12:29 a.m. North River and Marshallberg fire departments also responded in mutual aid to the call.
The assistant chief said when units got on scene a three bay garage and three cars were well involved and fire was extending to the interior of the single-story home.
“That area of the home was basically my ‘man cave,’ ” Mr. Willis said.
Several years ago the family had converted part of the 26 by 48-foot structure into a family room area. A small garage area in the rear held Mr. Willis’s 2000 Chevrolet Corvette.
Mr. Willis said his wife awoke him 12:27 a.m. Friday saying she was hearing knocking noises.
“I actually told her to hush,” he said. “But, her hearing is better than mine.”
Mr. Willis said within seconds he heard an explosion.
“I rushed to the back door,” he said. “As I looked through the glass, all I saw was red.
“I had sense enough not to open the door,” he said. “My wife and I had just enough time to run from the front of house in nothing but pajamas and barefoot.”
Joe Johnson, their neighbor, woke up and helped Mr. Willis move his truck. While Mr. Willis didn’t have the keys, they were able to put it in neutral and get it away from the fire.
However, Mr. Willis’s work van and two personal vehicles, including the Corvette, were completely destroyed.
“I’ve got insurance,” he said. “More than likely I am underinsured, but, we are alive, we will recover and move on.”
Ms. Davis, the assistant fire chief, said the fire was moving quickly. The fire had already extended to the ceiling and through walls when fire crews arrived, but they began attacking the fire through the front door and managed to knock it down.
She said the home had extensive smoke and heat damage, but crews were able to salvage a few items that were not completely ruined, including jewelry boxes, safes and other miscellaneous items.
Ms. Davis thanked the North River and Marshallberg fire departments for responding to assist Otway in fighting the fire.
She also stressed how very important it is for homes to be equipped with smoke detectors.