Dare County fire marshal Steve Kovacs has determined that fires at two Hatteras Island businesses during November were accidental.
The first was the fire that was first reported by a passerby in the early morning hours of Nov. 18 at the main office of Outer Beaches Realty in Avon. Four island volunteer fire departments and about 40 firefighters battled that spectacular night-time blaze.
Most of the damage was in the center part of the large building that, in addition to the realty company, also contains two apartments and several other offices. The apartments and offices, on the west side of the building, sustained mostly water damage, Kovacs said just after the fire, and the east side of the building, where the realty office is located, sustained smoke and water damage.
Kovacs said that he has ruled out arson in that fire. While he said that he and others involved have several theories about how the fire started, his official ruling is “accidental.”
Outer Beaches President Alex Risser agreed this week that the cause of the fire is mostly conjecture but that the most reasonable theory centers on an outside electric outlet under the building.
The thought, he said, is that, over time, salt could have corroded the outlet to cause the blaze. Even though the outlet is above flood level, he added, tide from one or more recent storm could have compromised it.
Contractors started tearing down the burned-out center part of the building earlier this week. Risser said that only the center part will need to be rebuilt. Both ends of the structure were saved, along with the ‘foundation’ — the pilings and part of the floor.
The exterior and floor plan, he said, will be about the same, though the signature tower may end up in a different location.
The company, which employs about 70 people year-round and about 200 in the summer, relocated many employees to a large house nearby, where served as a central offices. Other employees, he said, were reassigned temporarily to office in Waves and Hatteras village.
Risser said that it had been rewarding to him to see how the whole community pulled together to help the realty company get back up and going immediately after the fire.
He said he is both thankful and proud that so many came to the company’s aid — from other companies, including competitors, to suppliers and friends and neighbors.
A second fire in November — on the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 23 — damaged the west end of Lee Robinson General Store in Hatteras village.
The owners, Belinda and Virgil Willis, live next door. They were at home and had been working around the store that day. They smelled smoke and immediately reported the fire.
The Hatteras Village Volunteer Fire Department and several others immediately responded and the fire was rather quickly brought under control and extinguished.
That fire also was accidental, according to Kovacs, who said the cause was most likely a faulty electrical cord.
The Willeses reopened the store two days later with the help of many of their friends and neighbors.
“Our community is wonderful,” Belinda said after the fire. “We are so blessed to live on Hatteras Island.”
Outer Beaches’ Avon office extensively damaged by fire
Fire damages Lee Robinson General Store