Fire probe begins

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 20, 2006

AHOSKIE – The investigation is officially underway.

Carefully stepping on top of the charred remains of Daniels Flea Market, SBI and ATF arson investigators were joined here Wednesday morning by Ahoskie Police Detective Sgt. Jeremy Roberts in an effort to determine what sparked Sunday’s massive fire that destroyed the Main Street business.

The investigators concentrated their early efforts in and around the rear entrance to the business. There, in meticulous fashion, the five-member investigative team sifted through the charred rubble, selecting various pieces of wood and glass that was kept for further analysis.

Roberts noted that the public should not assume the fire was deliberately set just because arson investigators are in town.

“This is standard operating procedure when there is a fire of this magnitude,” Roberts said. “For the safety of our citizens and for the peace of mind of business owners throughout Ahoskie, we’re hoping this was not the work of an arsonist. What we are doing is collecting what evidence we can find that will hopefully lead us to what caused this fire.”

Echoing his comments from Tuesday’s article, Roberts said he expects the on-site investigation to take at least two days. That will cause the streets around the fire scene to remain closed.

Barricades will remain on Main Street. The Ahoskie Police will continue to post an officer at the fire scene until the investigation has been completed.

“We have made every effort to keep the fire scene undisturbed in order to effectively and accurately carry out the investigation,” Roberts noted.

Meanwhile, workers with Commercial Ready Mix of Ahoskie are clearing bricks from the Maple Street side of the Flea Market. Those bricks, which comprised the wall of the building, littered the street and sidewalk.

Sunday’s blaze, reported at 8:02 a.m., took the efforts of nearly 80 firefighters from seven area departments to finally bring under control. The plume of smoke could be seen for miles outside of town. In the meantime, the smoke blanketed Main Street, giving the appearance of a 9-11 scenario.

Employees of Jernigan Oil Company, located on the northeast side of the Flea Market, were taking no chances as they were seen on Sunday morning removing important records. Fortunately, the fire caused no damage at that business.

This marks the second trip in four days by arson investigators to Ahoskie. Evidence was collected by the SBI from the scene of a fire on Saturday afternoon, a blaze that affected four Main Street businesses located a half-block east of the Flea Market.

Saturday’s fire started in a storage shed located behind a residence at 112 Lloyd Street, rental property owned by Jim Ellis. The fire spread to the rear of four Main Street businesses n A.D. Jernigan Insurance, an office space rented by Catherine Allen, the J.C. Penney Catalog Store and a storage area used by Ahoskie Floral Gardens. All of that Main Street property is owned by Ed Robert Evans.

“There were some samples taken from the storage shed that have been sent to the SBI lab to check for the possibility of accelerants,” Roberts said.

At the present time, the two fires are not considered connected.

Ahoskie Fire Chief Ken Dilday said the brunt of the damage occurred at the J.C. Penney store. He said the catalog store suffered fire, smoke and water damage. He said there was minor fire damage to the insurance office while the other two businesses suffered smoke and water damage.

Dixon’s Cleaners, located on the west corner of that block of buildings, escaped damage.

The Ahoskie Fire Department responded to Saturday’s blaze with 12 men and two units. Upon assessing the situation, Dilday summoned the Murfreesboro, Union and Winton fire departments for manpower assistance.