Fire destroys St. George mobile home (1/7/10)

Jan. 7, 2010

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Tragedy struck a St. George couple on the morning of Dec. 26 when they discovered their home on fire. In the following days, they also found out how generous neighbors and strangers can be.

Ray and Shirley Barrows fled their St. George Villa mobile home around 7 a.m. the day after Christmas. While the home did not completely burn to the ground, all items inside were lost, according to St. George Villa manager Mary Ann Bovat. The Barrows were only able to rescue a handful of family pictures, Bovat said. No one was injured in the fire.

“Thank God it wasn’t windy or the fire could have spread to other homes,” Bovat said.

The Hinesburg Fire Department received a call for the blaze at 7:11 a.m. and quickly arrived on scene. Chief Al Barber described the home as a complete loss.

Firefighters determined the cause of the fire to be defective heat tape surrounding water pipes in the home’s basement crawlspace. Barber said heat tape, which is plugged into electrical outlets, is wrapped around piping to generate warmth to avoid freezing. It appears the tape’s wires shorted, sparking a flame that carried into the bathroom of the home and then quickly spread, he said.

Barber said heat tape should be inspected often to make sure it’s safe. “They really should be replaced every year,” Barber said.

Bovat said the Barrows lost nearly everything in the fire, but the generosity of the community made the difficult time much more manageable. Immediately after the Barrows fled their home, the neighboring Charlton family — Robert, Carrie and Jesse — took them in, finding extra clothing and food.

“They went way beyond the call of duty of a neighbor,” Bovat said.

Word spread throughout St. George that the Barrows were in need. Community members rallied to donate more clothing and food and fill other needs. Bovat, along with her husband Clyde, found a vacant home in St. George Villa for the couple to reside. One individual, hearing the Barrows’ story on radio station WOKO, donated old furniture.

Bovat said the kindness of strangers touched the couple, whom she describes as “low-key” and not ones to seek attention. The Observer could not contact the Barrows prior to press deadline. Bovat also found inspiration in the outpouring of support.

“It gives me a renewed sense of humanity,” she said.

Bovat said the Barrows still need some essential items, including bedding and clothes. To donate, call St. George Villa at 482-2315 or mail items to the Barrows at 82 Birch Road, St. George, Vt. 05495.