ST. PAULS — Two fire departments and the community have helped a local family that lost its home to a fire on Christmas Day find something to celebrate.
At about 2:30 a.m. on Monday, the St. Pauls and Big Marsh fire departments responded to a structure fire on the 700 block of East Broad Street. When firefighters arrived at the single-wide mobile home, flames were shooting out of two windows, according to Chris Jackson, assistant fire chief for St. Pauls.
The fire was under control within 10 minutes. Jackson said the Ocampos family was not home, but had they been, there might have been a tragedy.
“The fire definitely blocked one of their escapes,” Jackson said. “It would have been a tough one to get out of, I think.”
Gene Lambert, safety officer for Big Marsh, agreed.
“The average burn time if the fire gets good is six minutes,” Lambert said. “With that time of morning, we usually see the structure burned to the ground.”
Jackson said the family, which includes two parent, two boys, and two girls all between the ages of 1 and 10, was celebrating Christmas at a relative’s home when the fire broke out. They returned home to see their home destroyed.
“The adults were shocked and the kids were visibily upset,” Jackson said. “They had tears in their eyes.”
Firefighters spent about three hours putting out hotspots. The fire cause was ruled electrical.
Firefighters headed home to enjoy Christmas with their families, but then got another call.
“We probably had a good hour of downtime,” Lambert said. “We got a call of another fire, a grease fire.”
This fire was at Hardee’s at 507 W. Broad St.
“We could see fire through the drive-through window,” Jackson said.
Quick reponse from the fire departments and a fire supression system in the restaurant minimized the damage, according to Jackson.
Hardee’s officials could not be reached, but a sign on the front door said, “Closed due to fire.”
The Ocampos went to the Big Marsh fire station Tuesday morning. One of the children was weaping.
“He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said Santa didn’t come to our house,” Lambert said. “I promised him that Santa would be there tonight.”
Lambert, who was born and raised in St. Pauls, got together with Jackson and they began looking for help for the family.
“Our town is small but it’s unlike any other town,” Lambert said. “We have our ups and downs, but when it’s time for us folks to step in together, it never fails, everyone pitches in.”
A list with the gender and age of the children and clothing sizes of families members was circulated on social media. The response was quick and overwhelming.
“Between four to five hours later, our 12-foot trailer was packed with donations,” Jackson said.
Lambert said clothes, gift cards, money, baby formula were delivered to the family, as well as gifts that the firefighters’ spouses wrapped.
“Santa made good on his promise,” Lambert said
Lambert says he was overwhelmed by all the support.
“St. Paul is a small town with a big heart,” he said. “This made my Christmas complete.”
Annick Joseph can be reached at 910-416-5168 or email@example.com.