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Paulk offers insight into arson probe

The state fire marshal offered members of the Brundidge Rotary Club an insight into the investigative division of his office on Wednesday.

As guest speaker at the club’s weekly meeting, Ed Paulk told members about the two main functions of the state fire marshal’s office: maintaining building fire codes for the state, including regulating fire sprinkler and alarm systems, and investigating possible arsons.

“If there is any belief that a criminal activity is afoot, we’re there,” Paulk said.

In a case of arson the investigative division first looks at the scene, starting from the area of least damage to the most – and that usually will lead investigators to the initial starting point of the fire. “That’s the area we’re looking for, as of the origin or cause,” Paulk said.

As an example, he cited the July 12 fire that destroyed Carter Brothers Manufacturing in Hamilton Crossroads. The fire has been declared a case of arson by Paulk’s office.

In the Carter Brothers fire, the 167,000 square foot building proved difficult to investigate. In the heat of July workers forged through twisted metal and debris to sort out all the possible evidence from the fire that caused $16 million worth of damages. The team used a crane with a bucket to lower investigators into the building where they used screw guns to take the metal structure a part piece by piece, Paulk said. This process was completed over a 10-day period. The tin was removed to examine the building to learn where the fire spread and determine where the fire originated. By doing so it was concluded that the initial act was arson, Paulk said. “The person or persons responsible could have had knowledge of how to handle such a fire or it could have possibly just been dumb luck,” he said.

Currently the department is looking for the person or persons who committed this crime. He said anyone who has information about the fire or leads should call 1-800-654-0775 or contact the State Fire Marshal through the website www.aldoi.gov or email firemarshal@insurance.alabama.gov.

All tips are investigated starting with looking at the information where it originated and discovering whether or not there is any fact to that information explained Paulk.

The person or persons responsible could be charged with a second-degree felony, which carries a sentence of two to 20 years.