November 24, 2014

UPDATE:  Lee Robinson General
Store is back in business


We're going to pick up and move on," Belinda Willis said resolutely this morning, the day after a fire damaged the exterior of the business she and her husband, Virgil, own in Hatteras village, Lee Robinson General Store.

"Virgil and I are ready to open up," she said.

Indeed, by the end of the day, the couple had the go-ahead from the county's building inspector and fire marshal and the Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative and they announced that they were opening at noon on Tuesday, Nov. 25.

The fire was called in about 4:07 p.m. Sunday afternoon.  The store is closed on Sundays, and the couple had been working around the building, doing chores such as picking up and raking. They had just gone back to their house, which is next door, for coffee when they smelled smoke and realized the building was on fire.

"We were just really, really blessed," Belinda said today.  

The fire was discovered early on, and she said that the firefighters "were just really, really awesome."

The Hatteras Village Volunteer Fire Department responded to the call, along with fire departments from Frisco and Buxton, Dare County Emergency Medical Services, the Hatteras Island Rescue Squad, and the county Sheriff's Office.

"It could have been really nasty," said fire chief Todd Ballance.

Not only was the fire discovered early, he said, but the southwesterly gale-force winds that were forecast ahead of the passage of a warm front didn't develop until early in the evening.

The firefighters arrived in light rain and a breeze that was just beginning to pick. The blaze was confined to the exterior of the west side of the two-story, wood-frame building and was quickly brought under control.

"That was a really good thing," Ballance said.  "If the wind had picked up earlier, it would have been a different story."

He said damage was confined to the exterior of the building and that the cause of the fire had not yet been determined.

Dare County fire marshal Steve Kovacs inspected the fire scene this afternoon, but could not reached to find out if he found any clues to how the blaze started.

Belinda Willis said the exterior damage was minimal, and there was very little water or smoke damage in the building's interior.

The county building inspector had already been to the store this morning and declared it structurally sound, she said. They got the go-ahead from the fire marshal and CHEC this afternoon.

Clean-up was underway, and Belinda said that the store would be ready to open by noon tomorrow.

"The visitors are here, and we're going to go for it," she said this evening.

"Our community is wonderful," she added. "We are so blessed to live on Hatteras Island."

Last night, Belinda said, friend and neighbor Leslie Hickman brought the Willis family a pot of stewed chicken.

"It was the best stewed chicken I ever ate," she said. 

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