June 25, 2015


Demolition begins at Avon Motel,
cause of fire still unknown

By IRENE NOLAN


This afternoon Earl Younce, owner of the Avon Motel, was waiting for the contractor to arrive to begin the demolition and cleanup of half of his business, which was destroyed by fire yesterday.

"It's completely gone -- all 26 rooms," he said about the north building of the motel. "It's got to be leveled."

The motel's south building was not damaged in the fire, which was reported about 11:40 a.m. and brought under control by firefighters from four of the island's six volunteer fire departments by 2 p.m.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, according to Sgt. Doug Oberbeck of the Dare County Sheriff's Office. Oberbeck said that investigators suspect that the fire started in the ceiling or attic of one of the rooms, but no cause has been pinpointed.

Kenny Brite, assistant chief of the Avon Volunteer Fire Department, said today that firefighters from his department cleared the scene shortly after midnight and then checked at various times during the night and morning to make sure there were no flare-ups.

Brite and others reported that firefighters had problems getting enough water to the fire.

"The hydrant was just maxed out, I guess," Brite said. "It wasn't that there wasn't water...I guess we were just being greedy, needing more."

Eventually, the department got equipment hooked up to a second hydrant on a different water line, and the situation improved, he said. However, the firefighting efforts and the high number of visitors this time of year combined to bring water reserves down in Avon.

By last night, Avon was down to a level that "the water department just wasn't comfortable with," said  Drew Pearson, Dare County's emergency manager. This afternoon, water reserves were back up to 70 percent, according to a news release from the county's Public Relations Department.

"The Dare County Water Department is working diligently to produce water to refill the water system to 100 percent," according to the news release.

Meanwhile, the water department has issued an advisory requesting voluntary water consumption reduction for outdoor uses in the Avon area through Friday evening, June 26.

No injuries were reported, but Brite said two firefighters were monitored by county Emergency Medical Services for heat exhaustion and several others who were battling the blaze in stifling heat and high humidity had to be told to sit down and rest in a cool area provided by the Hatteras Island Rescue Squad.

All of the motel units -- rooms and apartment -- were occupied, Younce said. Some were being rented by visitors, and others were rented by various companies to house summer workers from other countries or other employees.

Carolyn Mitchell and her husband, who are from Chocowinity, N.C., are regular visitors to the Avon Motel and have been for a number of years. 

"We won't stay anywhere else," she said. "We love the community, we love the motel, and we love 'Dar,'" she said, referring to the motel manager, Darlene Hooper.

The Mitchells checked in Sunday and were sitting on a couch in their room watching TV when the fire broke out. Mitchell said she thought she heard an odd sound, "like a far away smoke detector" but didn't think too much about it.  A short time later, she was headed out on a porch to sit and read when an employee warned the couple to "get out right away."

"We just hauled buggy," she said, but added that they were able to carry their suitcases with them and a firefighter warned them to move their truck immediately, which they did.

The Mitchells were moved to another room, where they intend to finish their vacation.

Sue Kirk and her husband from Pennsauken, N.J., were also guests.  The couple owns the Breeze-Thru in Avon and also a house in the village.  The house was rented, so they were spending a few weeks at the motel.

Kirk said that several people -- she's not sure who they were -- helped them move their belongings out of their room. "We were just throwing stuff in the truck," she said.

The Kirks have also moved to another room.

Other guests were less fortunate.  Some lost all of their belongings.

One of them is Bryan Lester from King George County, Va., who was spending the week in the motel with his wife and three sons. He says that watching everything they owned burn up was a terrible and traumatic experience for his boys.

He's a regular visitor to Avon and has stayed in the motel before, he said.  They were given another room, but it's much smaller. He called The Island Free Press this morning to say that he's not happy that Younce won't reimburse him for cash, fishing equipment, and personal belongings.

Younce replies that his insurance company told him that the guests can recover their losses through their own homeowner's insurance, but that the motel policy does not cover the personal property of renters. His insurance agent confirmed that.

Younce said he called the Greater Albemarle Area Red Cross in Elizabeth City, which sent staff members with debit cards and supplies to help out some of the guests. Lester said his family got a debit card for $680, which was "very, very helpful."

Hooper said the motel management was doing all it could to help guests of the motel, where she has worked for 24 years.

"I watched it burn, and I just cried like a baby," she said.

Younce said construction on the motel was started in 1975 and it was completed in 1981. He said he's not sure if he will rebuild.

"I've been told that it will cost $850,000 to replace it," he said today, adding that he had $200,000 in bookings for the rest of the year that he will lose -- and an insurance policy for only $100,000.

He said the cost for demolition of the burned-out building will be $50,000.


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