Arson Fires Destroys Downtown Block in W.Va.

Feb. 26--HINTON -- Nearly an entire city block in downtown Hinton has been razed and residents in 11 homes are displaced after an arsonist started two separate fires around 1 a.m. on Tuesday.

Hinton Police Chief Derek Snavely said Billy Joe Gill, 25, of Hinton, was arrested and charged with 1st Degree Arson, a felony. He is believed to be responsible for both incidents.

Hinton Fire Chief Ray Pivont said the fire department responded to a fire in a two-story structure on Fifth Avenue near the Hinton waterpark and Summers Street around 1:25 a.m.

Only 30 minutes later and while on the scene of the first fire, the fire department was called to a second structure fire in the 800 block of Temple Street at a group of apartments knows as "the brick row," he said.

Pivont said additional fire departments throughout the county and from neighboring counties were called to assist; however, the fire spread rapidly, leaving the entire complex containing 10 apartments in 5 closely neighboring buildings a total loss.

No one was injured in the fires.

"I know today marks a day in history that many will never forget," expressed Snavely. "Today we nearly lost a dozen homes, but we are so blessed that none of our citizen or first responders were injured."

Snavely said Assistant State Fire Marshal Scott Rhodes assisted the Hinton Police Department with the investigation.

Hinton Mayor Joe Blankenship said he was proud of the police force, most of whom worked through the night on the investigation which led to a swift arrest.

"Tragedies like these are hard but it makes you proud that our city and community can come together for a quick response," he added.

Officials are not sure of the number of people displaced by the fire, but Blankenship said American Red Cross representatives from Beckley would meet with victims Tuesday and find shelter for everyone by nightfall.

Area resident Maria Torres said donations for the families are being collected at J. L. Massie Insurance Inc., located at 217 Temple Street.

Summers County 911 said all fire departments in the county responded to the scene, including Forest Hill, Hinton, Jumping Branch, Sandstone, and Talcott.

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