No injuries reported

Firefighters go through the remains of a house destroyed early Friday by a fire in Bettie. (Helen Outland photo)

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.

Contact Helen Outland at 252-726-7081, ext. 211; email; or follow on Twitter@helenccnt.

(10) comments


Mr. HUNNINGS is a firefighter with Beaufort and was in fact off duty, however, Beaufort fd responded and arrived on scene prior to any other department. Get your facts straight!


This article fails to acknowledge the Big thank you that Beaufort Fire Dept deserves for their quick response being first due on scene and first initial attack on the structure and efforts to salvage belongings.


As a citizen who strongly supports our local fire departments I strongly recommend you update your story. Not only was the Beaufort Fire truck first on scene to the fire, they also did the first attack on the fire and made a good stop on the fire. Not taking anything away from the other departments that were on scene of the incident. I think every member volunteer and paid alike did a great service that morning. I just think it is a good thing to give credit when credit is due. Thank you to our local firefighters. And to Beaufort firefighters, we didnt forget you


I am a huge supporter of all local fire departments. But I for one know that Beaufort Fire Dept's truck was first on scene of the fire and their crew did the first fire extinguishment. Not taking anything away from any other department that responded because everyone does a great job protecting our community but I think we should give credit when credit is due. Thank you to all the fire departments who responded and a Big Thank You to Beaufort FD, we didnt forget you.


Sounds like Beaufort FD has some major problems..You need to have some respect for the family who home was on fire..You need to go whine some place else then here.. No one wants to her it..


Mutual Aid. That is all that matters. Why does it always come to a pissing match when it comes to who gets credit and who is in charge on a fire scene? Lets thank all who came to assist,. but it seems more important to give out "at a boys" and "pat on our backs" to eachother.


In April of 2004, while currently working full-time as a law enforcement officer, I joined my local volunteer fire department. I was so impressed with the fire service and the brotherhood, that I chose to leave law enforcement and become a career firefighter full-time. Some of the reasons that I joined the fire service were to better myself, give back to my community, and simply for the love of the job. One of the reasons that I did not think about when joining the fire service was for the recognition for doing my job. I could care less if I ever get credit for helping my brothers and/or sisters in emergency services, or for helping my community both at my volunteer department and my paid department... I'm just doing my job and answering my call. If anyone is in emergency services to be recognized for anything, then you're picking the wrongs reasons to be out here, helping others. I know for a fact that the Beaufort Firefighters that were out there that morning, assisting Otway Fire & Rescue with their structure fire, do not care if they're recognized for their efforts or not. I know this for two reasons... one, because I've spoken with each and every one of them... and two, because I was with Beaufort FD that night. Things happen... people make mistakes. Assistant Chief Davis and I have spoken, and she has assured me that she mentioned Station 54 in the news article interview and it was accidentally left out by mistake. So Beaufort FD didn't get credit for being at the structure fire... WHO CARES? I can tell you one person who doesn't care... ME. I'll continue to do my job each and every day, with or without any credit given to me. The only thing that I seek in life is to be a loving husband and father, and to help those who are in need of my assistance. That's what life and the fire service are all about... helping others... not worrying about who was at the structure fire or who put out the fire... it's about just making sure that you did your job and gave 100%. Thanks! God Bless!


@HightiderOtway.. Well said, you have your heart in "your job"


My prayers are with both of you, I'm so glad you weren't injured.
God will help you through this, as will family and neighbors.


ok self appointed heros.get over it one bunch of heros got to the fire before the other heros crowd are a so full of have a job or some volenteer.good for you.but remember you are no more or no less important than a plumper'doctor fisherman or trash have a job to do just do it and quit acting like a bunch of whinners.

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