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By Connie Leinbach
Raul Espinosa Ibarra was back at work Saturday and fielding well wishes from community members following a fire Thursday that gutted his home behind his workplace, the Variety Store.
Still reeling from Thursdays events, he was teary, but smiling, as he acknowledged the outpouring of community support following the fire in which he lost everything but the clothes he was wearing.
The Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department contained the fire in about 20 minutes after the call came in at 1:42 p.m. Thursday, said Fire Chief Albert O’Neal.
Twenty-one of the 29 company members responded and also about 30 community members. Ibarra was working at the time and no one was injured.
“I didn’t think I could go through this, but the support of all of you guys is just great,” Ibarra said, taking a break from helping his boss, Tommy Hutcherson, store proprietor.
Hutcherson said the support has been incredible.
“It brought tears to my eyes when I saw these kids empty the contents of their piggy bank,” Hutcherson said. “It was about $8.”
Hutcherson was referring to Ibarra’s young friend Dallas Mason, 4, and his brother, Asher, 2.
“Ever since Dallas was little, Raul has made a big fuss over him,” said Dallas’s mother Emilie. “They’ve just had this bond. Every time Dallas goes into the Variety Store, he makes a beeline for Raul.”
So, when Dallas learned about what happened to Ibarra, he was very concerned, and Emilie suggested he write a letter.
The Mason’s caregiver JuJu Baker helped Dallas by putting down his words and pictures, which turned into a three-page book.
When Emilie and the boys got to the store, they were just going to leave it at the front, but Hutcherson took the youngster to give it to Ibarra personally.
“Then the waterworks started,” Emilie said. “It made me very proud that Dallas would want to do something like this. To make that big of an impact on a four-year-old is amazing.”
The biggest thing Ibarra needs now is money, Hutcherson said. The gutted dwelling, which he owns, will be demolished, he said. Ibarra has living quarters for as long as he needs, thanks to Hutcherson’s donation of one of his rental cottages.
Hutcherson said the Dare County Fire Marshal visited the site on Friday and suspects the fire started in Ibarra’s refrigerator.
This was an old refrigerator, he said, and it had been in the flood from Hurricane Matthew.
Then there was a thunderstorm Wednesday night that caused several power surges on the island.
“The power surges may have caused the motor to arc,” Hutcherson said.
Sandy Yeatts, an island electrician, an EMT and the training officer for the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Company, said any time appliance motors become covered in water, their wires will corrode. This could cause the motors to stop working, or, more dangerously, arc and start a fire.
Even after they dry out, they may still work for a while, but will eventually quit. Yeatts suggested that any appliances islanders have that were in the hurricane flood waters, though they may still work, should be replaced for safety reasons.
People from all over have been responding to Ibarra’s loss, said Trudy Austin, a cashier at the store.
A donation bucket on one of the store’s counters was set up immediately Thursday afternoon.
“We’ve emptied it several times,” Austin said. Ibarra has also received five boxes of clothing donations and a full shopping cart, all inside the store.
Hutcherson said that is enough for now. Those interested in helping can send checks payable to Raul Ibarra in care of the Variety Store, P.O. Box 247, Ocracoke, NC 27960.
A “Go Fund Me” campaign has been started for Ibarra and can be found on a Go Fund Me page, gofundme.com/help-raul-after-his-house-fire here.