1st person: Fires hit historic community hard

Police interview witnesses at the location of the fourth fire on Cordova Street.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – As I arrived on the scene this morning the investigation was well underway. The state and city fire marshals were both working this investigation along with the ATF.  They were focusing their attention on trying to figure out the cause of the four early-morning fires.

Just before 10 a.m. the city Fire Marshal Bob Growick came and told me that at least two of the fires were the work of an arsonist.  They were working with police to review surveillance video to try to get a description of the suspect.

We talked with a manager at The Chocolate Turtle which is located right next door to one of buildings on Cordova that partially collapsed because of the fire and they were thankful that the building was not damaged.  Laura Highsmith said they've only been open 10 weeks and just had the original shingles replaced and she believes that saved her building. 

The Chocolate Turtle serves delicious dessert, coffee and wine, and even came around with trays of dessert for the firefighters and also the TV crews. (That's how I know they're delicious.)

There was a lot of disappointment and sadness in this community that has worked so hard to restore and preserve these homes. All of the homes that were on fire are at least 100 years old. 

Growick said a similar rash of fires happened 12 to 15 years ago when someone set fire to old buildings in St. Augustine and they never caught the person responsible.  This time they're hoping they have enough intelligence to eventually make an arrest.  

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According to SJCFR, the first fire was reported at 3:25 a.m. at an architectural office on 45 Cordova Street in downtown St. Augustine. According to the Yellow Pages, the address is listed at Dixon Design Group Inc. The building partially collapsed and firefighters said he building was unoccupied.

About the Author:

Anchor on The Morning Show team and reporter specializing on health issues.