Body found in suspicious fire

• Firefighters investigating mobile home blaze in Ocean City believe it was arson.

By JEFF AYRES Daily News Staff Writer
Firefighters assessing damage from what is said to be a deliberately set fire discovered a man’s body inside a mobile home Thursday morning.

The man, whose name and age were not immediately available, was found dead inside his home at Oak Dale Village mobile home park, Lot 19, on Gibson Road in Ocean City as firefighters were suppressing a fire inside the trailer.

An autopsy done on the body Thursday afternoon indicated the man died as a result of the fire. The manner of death, however, remains undetermined.

Lt. Kevin Fiedor of the state fire marshal’s office said the blaze, which broke out about 6 a.m. Thursday, is being investigated as an arson.

The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office is assisting fire officials in the investigation.

Sheriff’s Office spokesman Rick Hord said there’s "nothing to indicate any external foul play," such as gunshot or stab wounds, to the man’s body.

It could be several days before the man’s identity is determined. Hord said investigators will have to use dental records to identify the body because of its condition.

The fire broke out in a bedroom in the rear of the trailer. The fire was contained to that part of the mobile home, and the body was discovered in that area, firefighters said.

However, no devices that could have been used to start a fire were found, and there was no sign of forced entry to the home, Fiedor said.

The damage inside the home made it all but impossible to determine if there had been a struggle, Fiedor said.

Ocean City-Wright firefighters received a call about 6:10 a.m. from someone who said there was a fire at Lot 19, and that someone might be inside the home, said Ocean City-Wright Deputy Fire Chief Randy Brown.

Monica Ross, who lives near the home, was already awake when she heard what she described as a loud explosion.

"I was having my coffee and I heard an explosion, a big explosion," she said. "I wasn’t sure what it was. It was very quick. It sounded like a bombing zone. It had to be something big."

Ross said she saw a woman running from the home, screaming, as flames shot "six feet out the back of the trailer," with smoke billowing from the rest of the mobile home. Ross said another neighbor called 911.

Brown said flames were coming from the back of the trailer when fire crews arrived. Firefighters entered through the front door and were able to bring the flames under control before they threatened neighboring homes.

Although the mobile home remained standing after the fire was put out, Brown said it appeared as if the home was totaled.

Oak Dale Village resident Elizabeth Phillingane knew something wasn’t right when she saw an ambulance parked outside her home early Thursday morning as she went to get her newspaper.

"Oh, gracious," she said when told what happened. "This is a quiet neighborhood, at least our end of it is pretty quiet. For something like this to happen is weird."

"It’s pretty scary around here," added another Oak Dale resident, Felicia Crews. "I sure hate that it happened."

A state fire marshal’s investigator had to be treated for dehydration after being overcome by heat inside the home.

Firefighters from Mary Esther and Fort Walton Beach assisted in putting out the fire.

• Staff Writer Jeff Ayres can be reached at 863-1111, Ext. 444, or [email protected]