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‘It was too close:’ Community holds fundraiser to help couple after home was set on fire

By Neydja Petithomme

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    CLYDE, North Carolina (WLOS) — Several Fines Creek organizations came together Saturday, May 4, to support a family in the community whose home was set on fire in March as they slept, leading to the loss of a large portion of their house and belongings.

The Fines Creek Community Club, the Fines Creek Fire Department and James Chapel Baptist Church held a fundraiser at the Fines Creek School Gymnasium in Clyde to raise money for Bill and Jody Russell.

This comes as back in March, the couple was sleeping when allegedly, Larry Rathbone — a man they did not have any association with — set their house on fire. Neighbors saw the flames and rushed to help get the couple out of the burning home.

Neighbors were able to help contain the flames and comfort the couple until fire crews arrived on scene.

Saturday, Jody Russell was still in disbelief.

“We got out by the grace of God,” she said. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here talking to you.” The organizations, including the fire department, contributed to Saturday’s event with food and entertainment.

The community was also encouraged to participate and had the opportunity to contribute through monetary donations.

According to Loretta Haynes, a first responder and member with Fines Creek Association, all proceeds will go to Bill and Jody to help them replace some of what they lost in the blaze.

“Everything we make here goes to them,” Haynes said.

The couple said they are thankful for the community’s help and overwhelmed with the amount of support they have been receiving, but they are especially thankful to be alive to tell their story.

“It’s not something we’re used to. We come from New Jersey, and coming back down here is totally different. All our family were there, that’s why we went back,” Jody said. “It’s been overwhelming to us.”

Bill Russell said he is thankful to be alive.

The man officials say is responsible for starting the fire is 48-year-old Larry Rathbone. He has now been charged with first degree arson, felony burning certain buildings and felony burning personal property.

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