From the Greensboro News-Record

String of incidents preceded flames

5-18-05

By John Vandiver, Staff Writer
News & Record

HIGH POINT -- As flames tore through the Happy Living plant Tuesday, tears welled up in the eyes of Misty Verouden.

She watched as firefighters arrived at the small furniture company she and her husband have owned for 10 years. Flames were shooting through the roof.

Onlookers with cameras and camcorders recorded the scene along S. College Drive in south High Point as about 35 firefighters tried to contain the blaze. Smoke could be seen throughout downtown High Point.

Overcome with emotion, Misty Verouden was speechless as she watched with family and friends. Her husband vowed to keep the company going.

"It'll be ugly," Bill Verouden said. "But we had a good business."

Strange things had been happening lately at Happy Living, a small furniture assembly and refurbishing company, which moved to the S. College location 18 months ago.

In recent weeks, the building has been broken into, a car in the parking lot was rummaged through, and a disheveled man recently walked into the building asking for money, workers said.

On Monday, there was a small fire in a trash bin under an overhang near the building's loading dock. That fire was extinguished by the sprinkler system. Because it was activated, however, the sprinkler system was offline Tuesday and in need of repairs.

Don Alley, who has worked at Happy Living for five years, was busy loading furniture Tuesday about 2:25 p.m. when he noticed flames near the break-room area, which is just yards away from where Monday's fire occurred.

"Fire guys! Let's go!" he shouted, as employees began to scramble out of the building.

The company has six employees.

All made it out safely and there were no injury reports, although firefighters were at the scene late into the evening.

Verouden was in his office when he heard the shouts of "fire" and fled the building. His first reaction as he watched the flames: "This is arson."

But fire officials said late Tuesday that the cause of the fire is yet to be determined. Arson investigators were on the scene.

"We'll have to do a lot of digging," said Detective Michael Bye, who investigates arsons for High Point police.

He wouldn't speculate whether the two fires might be connected.

"Right now, we don't know what this is."