A fire broke out at dawn in the living room of a duplex at 164 Fenimore Lane in Palm Coast this morning. Firefighters were able to contain the fire to the living room. But it was almost immediately termed suspicious, and the property turned into a crime scene.
The fire broke out at about 6 a.m. in the 164B side of the property. Jessica Evans, who owns the duplex, was not home. A friend drove her there at 7:20 a.m. By then Palm Coast firefighters had put out the flames and were investigating the damage as they awaited the arrival of the state fire marshal. A Flagler County sheriff’s deputy was encircling the house with crime-scene tape.
“At this point it’s considered a crime scene,” Palm Coast Deputy Fire Chief Jerry Forte said at the scene. “The crews made a really good stop. No one got hurt.”
But there were signs of foul play as soon as crews arrived. “The doors were open when we got here,” Forte said—the garage door, the entry door to the living room and a back door were all open, as if to fan the flames. “It’s very suspicious at this point and the state fire marshal has been contacted. When they get here they’ll deter mine as to point of origin or origins and what had actually occurred before the fire started. This is going to be turning more into a crime scene than a fire scene at this point.”
Forte said there were more unanswered questions than answers at this point.
“The fire started in the middle of the structure in a couch area, it looks like a futon, went straight up to the ceiling, spread across the ceiling a little bit and was isolated to that one room,” Forte said. “Smoke however did go throughout the house, causing damage throughout the entire structure on the 164B side.”
The 164A side, which Evans rents to a friend—who was at the scene—was not damaged, nor were adjacent houses, whose occupants were not evacuated.
The unusual burn patterns raised suspicion in the three-bedroom house. “When the crews went in,” Forte said, “they saw that it was an unusual circumstance, they hit the fire, knocked it down and pulled out. At this point we take our time going through the process as opposed to just overhauling the building. Where the couch was, was in proximity to what appears to be or could be a second fire, which would be about three or four feet away from where the couch was. It could have been that the fire radiated, but it doesn’t look as though we’ve seen that in the past. This is unusual.”
Radiant heat can ignite a nearby area or object. “What’s unusual about this is, where the fire started from got a little hot, not very hot,” Forte explained. “The item that was next to it that caught on fire burned very hot to the ground. But there’s other items that were in the house that weren’t damage that were in close proximity. Radiant heat should have caused everything to be on fire. But it was isolated to the couch and that other object.”
Forte would not say whether the house was ransacked, saying that question was for the fire marshal, who had not yet arrived at the scene.
The B side of the 15-year-old duplex was well protected. “There’s a firewall that goes all the way up to the roof-line but the damage was limited to the couch and a little bit of the ceiling, so even the roof structure itself on the B side is still intact. Everything was contained to that one room,” Forte said. The criminal investigation aside, the house would require a lot of cleaning up and some sheet-rock replacement, Forte said, but can be made livable again.
At about 7:30 a neighbor turned over to a sheriff’s deputy what appeared to be a white iPhone packaging box she had found in the area, on the ground, containing the owner’s personal information.
Palm Coast Fire Department Battalion Chief Ron Petrillo was in command at the scene. Flagler County Fire Rescue responded to assist Palm Coast, as did the Palm Coast Fire Police, after the arrival of sheriff’s deputies.