Man, 88, dies in beach cottage fire

By Anthony Cormier News Herald Writer 747-5089 /
An 88-year-old man died after a fire gutted his Panama City Beach cottage late Monday night. Investigators believe the blaze started by accident.

Authorities had not released the man’s name by late Tuesday night. They were trying to locate his family in Washington state.

The fire began around 11 p.m. and soon overtook the residence, officials said. Bay County Emergency Operations units arrived minutes later, and Chief Bob Majka said the blaze was under control by 11:05 p.m.

Neighbor Steven Grell pulled the man from the burning cottage, a Bay County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said. Emergency personnel declared the man dead at the scene. State Fire Marshal’s Office investigators are reviewing the fire, and the cause and origin are still undetermined.

"We don’t have an official word yet," Majka said. "But we are, however, leaning toward the fact that it was accidental."

Investigators believe the man lived alone at the Emerald Pointe Resort, a group of cottages at 1219 Thomas Drive. Heat scarred the vinyl siding on two homes adjacent to Lot 27, where the blaze broke out. Firefighters prevented extensive damage at both residences.

Neighbors could not be reached Tuesday afternoon, and Emerald Pointe managers declined comment. A maintenance worker said the victim’s name was Hugh, and he was a quiet and well-liked resident.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Ruth Sasser said management had been concerned for the victim’s welfare, as his age sometimes made him incapable of routine tasks.

A small fire recently broke out at the residence, she said. The cause of that blaze also is unknown.

"Management was trying to get him some help," Sasser said.

"They knew him and were concerned about him living there alone."