Upson County Sheriff’s investigators are looking into three suspicious house fires that occurred on January 7. The trio of fires is suspicious because all three homes were vacant at the time, one home was set on fire twice, and in at least one home, firefighters believe an accelerant was used to cause the fire to spread more rapidly than normal. A fourth house fire, which occurred just over the county line in Lamar County, is also being investigated.
The first fire was called in shortly after midnight on Jan. 7. A neighbor to 6455 Crest Highway heard dogs
barking, looked out the window, and saw the mobile home, which sat directly across from Wilson’s Market, on fire. By the time Deputy James Hollis and the Thurston Volunteer Fire Department arrived, the singlewide trailer was fully engulfed in flames. This was the second time in two weeks that the structure was set on fire. On Dec. 28, Benjamin Scott Whatley of Meansville called for an officer to come to the scene. Whatley told Sgt. Ronald Barfield he had just closed the purchase of the residence and received the keys. When he went in the home, he found three back windows had been broken out and signs of a fire. Barfield stated he found burnt carpet under one window, fire damage to a wall, and soot on the walls, floors and ceilings. Sgt. Barfield spoke with Tim Cherry of Team One Real Estate Professionals, who told him the house was a VA foreclosure. Cherry said he had last been at the house on Dec. 20, and everything was okay then.
Deputies and firefighters responded to another suspicious structure fire two hours later. Dep. Mario Cromer was dispatched to a house fire at 260 Willis Road at 2 a.m. When he arrived, The Rock VFD was on scene and stated that the house was actually in Lamar County. Cromer radioed in, and when Lamar County deputies arrived, he turned the scene over to them. According to Chief Deputy Leslie Holmes of the Lamar County Sheriff’s Department, that fire is also considered suspicious because the house was vacant at the time.
The third and fourth fires occurred around 11:30 p.m. that night and relatively close to each other. A structure fire at 135 Pickard Road was called in, with Sgt. Neill Sanders responding. When Sanders arrived, he found a doublewide trailer situated far off the road fully engulfed in flames. Stacy Harper, who lives in a house closer to Pickard Road, stated a neighbor had called and told him the trailer was on fire, and he called 9-1-1. Thurston VFD responded to the blaze, but the trailer was a total loss. According to Sander’s report, Jan Knight of Day Realty was in the process of selling the trailer to Adam Tanner, with the closing set for Jan. 11.
Kevin Kaczmarek, a volunteer with Northside VFD, was on his way down Burkett Road to assist at the Pickard Road fire when he saw flames and smoke coming out of one side of a brick home at 402 Burkett Road. Kaczmarek called the fire in and stated he did a walk around the house, which was vacant, and found the fire in a room on the northeast side of the house, and a broken window on the northwest side. In Sgt. Sanders’ report, Kaczmarek said the fire became strong quicker than it normally would, and he believes an accelerant was used. Northside and Thurston VFD’s responded to the fire, which caused heavy fire damage throughout the house. The home is owned by Margaret Karafa, but was vacant and up for rent by Day Realty.
It is believed all four of these fires may be related, as well as a number of other fires in 2012 and 2013 in Upson, Lamar and Monroe counties. The Sheriff’s Departments in all three counties have launched a joint investigation into the fires. For more on the joint investigation, see a related story in the Tuesday, Jan. 15 issue of The Thomaston Times.