Springfield fire kills longtime resident


Arson task force investigating blaze


By Dana Treen
Times-Union staff writer
A Jacksonville man and his two dogs were found dead inside a two-story Springfield house destroyed by an early morning fire yesterday, authorities said.

An arson task force that includes state and federal agencies is investigating the cause of the fire, which was determined to have started on the front porch. Another recent fire around the corner in the 1100 block of Liberty Street was an arson, said Jacksonville Fire and Rescue spokesman Tom Francis. That fire also started on the porch, but Francis said it is not known if the two are connected.

Damage to the house in yesterday's fire was so extensive, arson may be impossible to determine, Francis said.

The victim, who was in his 80s, was an eccentric fixture in the neighborhood where he had lived for about 60 years, police and neighbors said.

His body was found outside a second-floor bathroom in the wood house at 312 E. Second St. His two Chihuahuas were also killed in the fire, which was reported at 4 a.m., Francis said.

The man's name is not being released pending notification of next of kin, said homicide Sgt. Randy Justice of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. Justice said it is not known if foul play was involved in the fire.

A portion of the house's west wall collapsed in the fire yesterday and a live power line was downed, but no one was hurt, Francis said. Investigators were tearing parts of the building down as they searched, to keep the site as safe as possible, he said.

Across the street, neighbor Richard Wates said his wife woke him after she heard the sound of breaking glass.

"She thought someone was coming down the street breaking windows in cars," he said.

Wates went outside and said he could feel the heat from the fire.

"The front of the house was like a big ball of fire," he said. Wates said he identified the man's body for authorities.

Francis said about 40 firefighters took 25 minutes to control the fire, but heat was too intense to permit them inside before it was out. Francis said the two-story house was roughly 100 years old and filled with a menagerie of discarded furniture, old newspapers, boxes, and items from egg cartons to lampshades the owner gathered and brought home.

"You put something on the curb it would be on his porch pretty soon," said neighbor Don Williams.

Jacksonville code enforcement inspector Bob Crawford said the city had been to the house several times to do inspections and had gotten the owner to clean his yard. Crawford said the man would not allow inspectors inside his house.

Wates said he had known his neighbor since 1995.

"He was cantankerous, especially with code enforcement," Wates said.

He said the man owned several other properties in Jacksonville and North Carolina.

"His goal was to sell all his property and go back home to North Carolina," Wates said.

Staff writer Dana Treen can be reached at (904) 359-4091 or via e-mail at dtreenjacksonville.com.