A devastating fire that struck Eastpoint last week destroyed a home and took out a small strip mall, but caused no injuries.
The sheriff says he believes the Thursday, March 18 is a case of arson.
“Our investigation has revealed that it was intentionally set on fire,” said Sheriff A.J. Smith, in a Monday press conference. “We’re looking for anybody that has any information about the fire, that have heard people talking, or just have any direct information, we would love to know about it.”
The state fire marshal was on the scene not long after the morning blaze behind Ard’s Service Station, at 407 U.S. 98, which sometime after 7 a.m. had engulfed a house on Shuler Street and was attacking the structure that once served as Ard’s Grocery, and which now housed the Palace Day Spa.
Residents of the house, which was years before owned by the Quick family, lost all their belongings but managed to get out safely.
“The house was fully engulfed when I got there,” said Eastpoint Volunteer Fire Department Chief George Pruett. “It was getting ugly.”
Complicating matters for the Eastpoint department, as well as the trucks that came from Apalachicola and St. George Island, was that the only fire hydrant within reachable distance was at the end of Shuler Street.
“We were all using the same hydrant. We had probably 600-to 800 feet of hose we had to pull to get into it,” Pruett said. “It cut the water pressure down.
“My big concern wasn’t for the (existing) fire; that house was destroyed already,” he said. “My concern was with winds that were prevalent, and this thing races north and goes to that neighborhood. My big concern was keeping that thing contained.”
The chief said the blaze also destroyed a camper trailer beside the house, and soon took out the former Ard’s grocery store.
“We breached the walls in to contain it,” he said. “We pulled the concrete block walls down with a pike pole, a little hooked pole. That’s how damaged that concrete was.”
Pruett said he was told by the state fire marshal that it could be difficult to establish, from an examination of the site alone, whether arson was the cause. “When things are that damaged, it’s hard for them to say,” he said.
Smith, who earlier in his career worked for six years as an arson investigator, said he does not believe this fire is connected to a structure fire earlier this month in the vacant Laura’s Restaurant a few blocks away.
The sheriff’s office has concluded that two individuals, Misty Murray and Jason James, had been using the structure as a residence for some time. Murray told investigators that she had started the fire with insulation and pillows, and she was later charged with arson and trespassing, and James with trespassing.
The fire, which completely spared the service station, was contained by a little after 9 a.m. Ard's Service Station has reopened and is fully operational.
“Today I was able to look at the salon, the old store, and not cry,” wrote Connie Roehr, on behalf of the Ard family, on Facebook. “Dawn Redinger, the stylist, and I lost everything. The other side of the building had precious treasures of my mom and dad.”
Roehr expressed thanks to all those who had reached out, including the sheriff and first responders and firefighters from the three departments, as well as Lanark Village, and the Florida Forest Service. She thanked Timmy Butler and Robbie Wallace for helping to clean up the debris; for Fonda Davis, head of solid waste, for lifting the tipping fee; and for Mike Cates for offering future services.
“You guys and gals are awesome, you saved our service station!” she wrote. “My employees at Ard’s Service Station & Tires worked diligently to help move tires, files, electronics, and new tires in case the fire continued.
“Franklin County, we are reaping what mom and dad has sewn. Thank you,” she wrote.
This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: Arson suspected in Eastpoint blaze