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Date of Issue: June 07, 2007

Holmes Beach arson investigation continues

State and West Manatee Fire Rescue District officials continued last week to investigate what they deemed an arson at a Holmes Beach apartment on May 25.

"This is the slow part of things," said Kurt Lathrop, deputy fire marshal for WMFR.

One man, resident Mark Pelham, was treated for smoke inhalation after escaping the fire at 6814 Palm Drive.

Pelham, a guitarist with the band Bootleg, discovered the fire at the entrance - the only door - to his second-story apartment and had to battle heat and smoke to escape.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze in about five minutes. Officials estimated property damage at about $50,000, and the fire damage was limited to one side of the upstairs duplex.

About 20 rescue workers assisted in fighting the fire, including WMFR firefighters, Longboat Key Fire Rescue, Holmes Beach Police Department officers and Manatee County Emergency Medical Services staff.

Lathrop said officials had concluded that the fire was intentionally set, but they are still investigating the incident.

"We're still doing our basic followup," Lathrop said, adding that the investigation involved reviewing property ownership and insurance records.

Manatee County Property Appraiser records for the site show that 6814 Palm Drive #A, valued at $271,665, is owned by M.C. Stafford of the United Kingdom, and 6814 Palm Drive #B, valued at $273,599, is owned by Adam John Stafford of the United Kingdom. The property owners could not be reached.

Lathrop, who is working with the state fire marshal's office and the Holmes Beach Police Department on the case, declined to discuss whether investigators had identified a suspect or suspects.

He also declined to say how the fire was started.

"We can't go into that," the deputy marshal said.

The on-site investigation, however, has concluded, Lathrop said.

Outside the duplex last week, burned and water-damaged debris remained. Red caution tape barred access to the property and a sign offered a cash reward for help solving the case.

The incident could result in an attempted murder charge as well as an arson charge.

Arson, according to the Florida Statutes, involves willfully or unlawfully causing damage by fire or explosion. The crime is a first-degree felony if the fire is set with the belief that a person is inside the structure.