Pressmen's Home fire scene yields no sign of bomb

Jeff Bobo • Apr 28, 2009 at 12:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE — An explosion Friday night in a building at Pressmen’s Home occurred after the fire started and was not a bomb, investigators concluded Tuesday.

Agents with the State Fire Marshal’s Bomb and Arson Unit were at the scene most of Tuesday with detectives from the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Department.

There were three suspected arson fires over the weekend on or around the old Pressmen’s Home grounds north of Rogersville, although an explosion was believed to have occurred in only the first fire late Friday night.

That fire, located in a small building off of Pressmen’s Home Road near the old motel, was where investigators focused their attention Tuesday.

“The preliminary report would indicate there was no explosion that caused this fire,” Sheriff Roger Christian said. “The explosion was a secondary event. We’re not sure what caused it, but they do feel confident that there was no bomb.”

Christian added that fire marshal investigators have theories as to what caused the explosion, and they will be conducting tests on evidence gathered at the scene to test those theories.

The Bomb and Arson Unit agents also brought a dog to the scene which “hit on” some piles of ashes from inside the building. Those ashes were then gathered in containers to be further analyzed.

Although there is still an arsonist on the loose, Christian noted it is a minor relief to know that the culprit isn’t using explosives.

“We’ve got a lead, and we’re following it right now,” Christian said. “If the explosion is not part of the arsonist’s plan, then we basically just have an arsonist and not someone going around bombing buildings. It’s good that we don’t have someone with explosives running around wreaking havoc in our county.

“But the damage is still done, and we need to catch whoever it is that was doing it.”

The second fire occurred Saturday morning shortly after 3 a.m. in an abandoned two-story building next door to the Lakeview Water Utility facility, 1110 Pressmen’s Home Road.

The third fire occurred Saturday shortly before 11 p.m. in an abandoned residence across from the old Camelot Golf Course clubhouse on Pressmen’s Home Road.

The owner of the property, Andrew Beath, has offered a $5,000 reward for evidence leading to the arrest and conviction of the arsonist. On Tuesday, Beath visited his Pressmen’s Home acreage, which he purchased five years ago, and spoke with investigators.

He told the Times-News Tuesday evening his plans include renovating and reopening the golf course and conducting a market study on the possibility of building homes around the golf course.

In fact, Beath said he hoped to open the nine-hole golf course this summer, but with this latest series of fires he will stall those plans. Beath said he doesn’t believe the fires are in retaliation or are calculated, but are instead “random meanness.”

“There’s not anybody who is upset with anything we’re doing there,” Beath said.

Beath added, “The nine holes could be opened this summer, but I’m not going to now. I’m going to wait and see if this kind of activity continues or not before I consider spending the kind of money that would be necessary to open it. At this point it’s discouraging, but nothing has happened that would prevent us from continuing if this kind of thing stops. If you can’t live with your neighbors well enough that they don’t burn your places down, it’s not the place to be.”

The three buildings that were destroyed aren’t essential to Beath’s plans. Shortly after he bought the property five years ago, however, there was an arson fire that destroyed a large barn that was actually Beath’s favorite building on the property.

He currently has several employees living in the old clubhouse helping renovate the property.

Aside from the $5,000 reward issued by Beath, the state fire marshal also offers a standing $1,500 reward. To report information, contact the arson hotline at 1-800-762-3017.

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