Fire departments rush to help NC fire department hit by tornado

(Robert Richardson/CBS North Carolina)


AUTRYVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) — Autryville is hoping for help three days after a tornado tore through the town of 200.

Mike Causey, the North Carolina Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal, visited the Autryville fire station Friday. He saw what remained after winds ripped the roof off and toppled walls onto fire engines. Several firefighters escaped injury and potential death by hiding under the trucks during the storm.

“I saw pictures of it, but when I physically drove up and saw those concrete blocks lying toppled over, I said, ‘That was a heck of a powerful wind,'” Causey said.

“I’m just glad the community has come together and so many people from all around have come to volunteer and help and make sure this fire department stays up and running.”

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Autryville Mayor Larry Autry said the damage doesn’t come close to qualifying for FEMA relief, but the toppled trees around town are still a significant impact. He asked the Sampson County Commissioners and Emergency Management Division for assistance.

“They’re trying to hook me up with some state help, state funding to get that in place. They’re supposed to be making some phone calls this afternoon, and I hope that I’ll hear from somebody,” Autry said.

The fire chief set up an online donation page at GoFundMe.com as he waits to hear about insurance and aid from state agencies.

Causey said he thinks there will be some sort of help coming from state emergency funds, but he doesn’t know what may be available from funds previously established for flooding and wildfire relief.

“Autryville will receive as much help as we can possibly give them,” Causey said.

Aid already arrived from several other fire departments. Three of Autryville’s four fire engines sustained significant damage from the storm, but the fleet is back to its needed number due to loaned equipment.

Princeville Fire Chief James Howell delivered a pumper truck Friday afternoon. His department lost much of its equipment in October due to Hurricane Matthew, and relied on other agencies to resume operations.

“Having experienced it first hand, there really aren’t resources to get fire departments back up and running. I’ve learned that myself. We had a pumper in the shop, just got it out today, and we were able to bring it right down here to deploy it,” Howell said.

“It’s just a reassurance that I want to provide to the chief here, that we’re going to be standing with him. We’re all in our struggle together. It’s not an individual effort, and we’re going to be there to support them in any way that they need.”

Howell said Autryville can use the pumper as long as it is needed. A fire engine from Boiling Springs, South Carolina, is on loan for up to two years, and Autryville also received an 80-day loan of a truck retired from Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Deputy fire chief Clint Holland said the generosity of other firefighters means a lot but does not come as a surprise.

“You can’t stop us. They’re always there. We’ve been getting phone calls and Facebook messages from all over the state, and all around the county especially,” Holland said.

“People volunteer their help and come down and bring trucks and bring guys just to pull calls for us so we can clean up and start rebuilding.”

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