Authorities continue to investigate a fire that gutted a vacant home in St. Clair and charred several acres of surrounding land Thursday afternoon.
Franklin County Arson Investigator Jim Schuhmacher told The Missourian on Friday morning that he will seek to file arson charges against a man who said he went inside the home to start a fire in order to keep warm.
As of Friday’s press deadline, the suspect had not been apprehended. His name was not released.
St. Clair Fire Protection crews were dispatched to the home at 1079 N. Lay St. at 1:49 p.m. on Thursday.
Originally, the call came in as a brush fire, Lt. Joe Van Leer said. However, when firefighters arrived, there was smoke and fire coming from the residence.
No one was injured.
St. Clair firefighters ended up issuing a second alarm because strong winds and dry conditions were helping the fire spread quickly through the thick underbrush and woods behind the home.
“There was some concern about the neighboring residences as well as a lumberyard,” Van Leer said. “But we were able to maintain and control the fire before it spread.”
Van Leer said some of the flames from the brush fires were as high as 20 feet.
“There was quite a bit of fire,” he said. “It was spreading pretty quickly.”
Firefighters attacked the fires from all sides using brush trucks to access the thick underbrush and tree areas.
The blaze was under control in about 45 minutes, Van Leer said. In all, he said 4 to 5 acres and a couple of sheds on the property burned besides the home.
The residence is located just to the north of the Crescent Village mobile home park. The owners are members of the Deaton family.
The J.C. George lumberyard and sawmill, 229 W. Springfield Road, is located just to the north of the Deaton property.
The residence that burned actually is not in the St. Clair city limits, but is surrounded on all sides by city land, St. Clair Police Chief Bill Hammack said.
Since the residence has been vacant for years, there were no utilities, including electric, going to the home.
In all, 16 fire units, including 11 from St. Clair, were on the scene. Thirty-two firefighters worked the fire. Mutual aid was provided by Union, Sullivan, Pacific and Boles.
The last units left at about 4:20 p.m.
Schuhmacher told The Missourian that the suspect allegedly had had an argument with his girlfriend, who lives in Crescent Village, and she kicked him out.
The man then went to another mobile home in the trailer park and asked the female homeowner if he could come in and get warm. Schuhmacher said the woman told him no.
“So, this woman told us that the man said he was going to go to the vacant home and start a fire to keep warm,” the investigator said. “That is the scenario so far. That’s what we’re working on.
“We’re still trying to find him.”
Schuhmacher said the St. Clair Fire Protection District, St. Clair Police and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office have been extremely helpful in assisting him with the investigation.
“This is a good case of active participation and cooperation between agencies,” he said.