Don Willis and his canine partner, Christine, with the crime scene unit of Macon County’s Sheriff's office assisted Jackson County’s emergency management department in an early Monday morning fire. Christine was on scene to offer her expertise in accelerant detection during the investigation. Although Willis could confirm that Christine was there to look for accelerant, because the investigation is ongoing, he could not confirm whether or not she found any.
The Fireplace Tavern (formerly known as Annie’s Food & Spirits) burned to the ground early Monday morning. The State Bureau of Investigation’s (SBI) arson unit is working with Jackson County’s fire marshal, Alan Farmer, and the emergency management team to determine the cause. A search warrant was issued for the tavern late Monday afternoon.
The tavern is adjacent to the Aztex gas station, which also sustained significant damage due to smoke. The owner of the gas station gave investigators written permission to search his portion of the structure.
Early reports of the fire speculate that the gas in the kitchen of the tavern was left on throughout the night which caused an explosion shortly after 4 a.m. Remnants of the structure which were found around the parking lot of the bar and testimony of hearing a loud “bang” support the explosion theory.
The gas pumps for the Aztex had been turned off Sunday evening, but emergency personnel had to take special precaution because of dealing with the flammable material.
“Everything was under control within 45 minutes of arriving on scene, but we have been extra careful dealing with the gas pumps,” explained Farmer. “The important thing is, no one was hurt, and we are thankful for that.”
The SBI representatives were able to confirm that they are working in Jackson County and are assisting in an ongoing investigation.