Hed: Guntown apartment fire ruled arson

By Cynthia M. Jeffries

Daily Journal

GUNTOWN – A fire that gutted a row of Guntown apartments and left five families homeless has been ruled arson.

Mike Ivy, a state fire marshal, said Wednesday he found three spots in a utility-storage room behind the apartments where separate fires were set in the Tuesday morning blaze. A single point of origin is usually found in fires of natural causes.

Combustible materials like furniture, boxes, paper and clothes were stored in the room, Ivy said, but there was no sign that flammable liquids were used.

A possible motive has not been released.

The 6 a.m. Tuesday fire that gutted the building was the third to occur at the complex of one-story, gray, brick-and-wood apartments since Sunday, and it was the second to occur that day. The apartments were occupied and many of the residents were at home at the time of the blaze, but no one was injured.

Prior to second fire Tuesday, one the residents, Ruth Tate, said she heard a crackling noise coming from the attic area, but didn’t pay it a lot of attention.

“Then my neighbor knocked on my door and said we needed to get out because the building was on fire again,” Tate said.

Nothing much was salvaged from any of the one- and two-bedroom apartments. And like Tate and her husband, Glen, none of the families had insurance.

“We are going to have to try and save up a little bit of money and start over,” Tate said.

There is no organized effort to help the families, though some are receiving help from friends and family. The Tates are staying with Glen’s son in Baldwyn.

One of the fire victims, Tracy Bigham, will receive a bed, television, dishes and clothes from her co-worker Mark George. She started working with him two days ago at Bull Market convenience store in Guntown.

The building housing the apartments at one time was a restaurant, but it burned during the ice storm of 1994.

The owner converted the building into the row of five apartments, located on state Highway 145, across from Mitchell’s Grocery Store in Guntown in northern Lee County.

“Someone wanted to burn that building down and they finally succeeded,” Tate said.

Click video to hear audio