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Sheriff: Smoking sparked fatal fire
Burn victim remains hospitalized a week later




MACCLESFIELD — A cigarette started the house fire that claimed a 73-year-old woman’s life and left her husband severely burned, Edgecombe County Sheriff James Knight said.

The Dec. 10 fire at Robert and Judy Corbett’s 507 West Green St. home has been ruled accidental, Knight said. Judy Corbett died in the blaze and her husband remains hospitalized.

"It appeared to be smoking materials,” Knight said. "There doesn’t seem to be any foul play or anything like that. The cause does appear to be accidental.”

Knight said a wicker basket in the home’s living room caught fire. Flames spread throughout the house and firefighters found Judy Corbett’s body in the kitchen.

Neighbors said they’d heard Robert Corbett was burned trying to save his wife. Deputies haven’t been able to interview Corbett because of the severity of his injuries, but the sheriff said the burns he suffered may be related to a rescue attempt.

"That’s a good possibility the way he was burned,” Knight said.

Robert Lee Corbett Jr. was taken to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville and transferred to the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill. Knight said Corbett was "still in pretty bad shape” Tuesday, a full week after the fire.

UNC Health Care officials did not return phone and email messages Wednesday requesting information on Corbett’s condition.

Knight said the State Bureau of Investigation is also examining the fire’s cause, which he said is standard procedure for fatal house fires.

The 5:07 a.m. fire gutted the Corbetts’ home of 40 years on the western edge of Macclesfield. Five volunteer fire departments and paramedics from Wilson and Edgecombe counties responded to the blaze, and a Wilson County volunteer firefighter sustained minor injuries.

Neighbors described Judy Corbett as a skilled homemaker who enjoyed sharing her cakes, pies and divinity fudge and kept an immaculate house.

"She was very friendly, very outgoing,” Beth Everette said. "You could eat off the floor of her house because she was such a clean person. I don’t think I’ve ever been in her house when it was dirty.”

Everette and her husband, Donald, said the Corbetts had lived in their home since at least 1972. Robert Corbett is a retired farmer whose father owned a hardware store in Macclesfield.

The Dec. 10 fire and the loss of a well-known resident rocked the western Edgecombe County town of about 500 people.

"It hasn’t been a good day,” Macclesfield Fire Chief Sonny Linkous said. "We don’t like to lose anybody, especially to something like this.”

Neighbor Robyn Bridger said she will miss Judy Corbett, and hundreds in Macclesfield will share her grief.

"When something like this happens, it just affects everyone — even if you didn’t know them,” Bridger said last week. "That’s just the way things are in Macclesfield. People around here, they care.”

A firefighter from the Bakertown Volunteer Fire Department near Elm City twisted his ankle and was taken to Wilson Medical Center, said Gordon Deno, Wilson County emergency management coordinator. He was not seriously injured.

corey@wilsontimes.com | 265-7821

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