Early-morning fires destroy three Interlachen homes

by Andy Hall
The Palatka Daily News

Firefighters were called to blazes at three isolated, unoccupied Interlachen-area homes in little more than an hour and a half Thursday morning, battling gusty winds to keep them from spreading to dry brush in the immediate area.
Arson is suspected and the fires have been linked not only to one another, but to a Friday night fire that destroyed another unoccupied home in the area.
A $2,500 reward has been offered for information leading to the identification of the person or persons responsible, according to Putnam County Fire Marshal Joe Guidry.
Thursday's fire destroyed a wood-frame home valued at $40,000 and two mobile homes each valued at $11,000, Guidry said.
The first call came at 5 a.m. to a mobile home at the corner of April and Fowler streets in Interlachen Lakes Estates. The next call was at 6:19 to the wood-frame house on Ray Avenue, south of State Road 20. The third call came at 6:37 to a mobile home on Southeast 10th Street.
The Friday night fire claimed an $8,000 mobile home on Jayne Street in Interlachen Lakes Estates.
"All four of these fires have something to tie them together," Guidry said. "Each home was vacant and the power had been turned off. The meter-can had been turned by the power company. And they were all isolated structures.
"There's some evidence we're investigating that we can't disclose yet."
Guidry did not see a link between the recent fires and a series of suspected arson cases in the Palm Shores area over a seven-month span in 2002. Those fires remain under investigation, he said.
The Thursday fires involved some 30 volunteers representing the Interlachen, Interlachen Lakes Estates, Hollister, Melrose, Florahome and West Putnam departments.
Guidry praised their response.
"These (fires) all came in a quick span," he said. "Whenever we have a working fire, we call out other stations to be in position if something else happens. If Station 4 (Interlachen) and 17 (Interlachen Lakes Estates) are working a fire, 14 and 13 (Florahome and Hollister) will move up and 20 (West Putnam) will move down.
"Some of these firefighters left one and went to another. The volunteers did a very good job of containing them and protecting evidence."
Containment was critical, given the windy conditions.
"It's dry and if (the fire) gets into this brush, we're playing catch-up trying to keep these from getting to other structures," Guidry said.
Persons with information on the fires may call Guidry at 329-0464, the Putnam County Sheriff's Department at 329-0800 or an arson control hotline toll-free at 1-877-662-7766.