The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 27, 2013

Hinton fire destroys city block

Police charge suspect with 1st degree arson

By Sarah Plummer
Register-Herald Reporter

HINTON — Nearly an entire city block in downtown Hinton was razed and residents in 11 homes displaced after an arsonist started two separate fires around 1 a.m. on Tuesday.

Hinton Police Chief Derek Snavely said Billy Joe Gill, 25, of Hinton, was arrested and charged with first degree arson, a felony. He is believed to be responsible for both incidents.

Hinton Fire Chief Ray Pivont said the fire department responded to the fire in a two-story structure on Fifth Avenue near the Hinton waterpark and Summers Street around 1:25 a.m.

Only 30 minutes later and while still on the scene of the first fire, the fire department was called to a second fire in the 800 block of Temple Street at a group of apartments knows as “the brick row,” he said.

Pivont said additional fire departments throughout the county and from neighboring counties were called to assist; however, the fire spread rapidly, leaving the entire complex containing 10 apartments in five closely neighboring buildings a total loss.

No one was injured in the fires.

“I know today marks a day in history that many will never forget,” expressed Snavely. “Today we nearly lost a dozen homes, but we are so blessed that none of our citizens or first responders were injured.”

Snavely said Assistant State Fire Marshal Scott Rhodes assisted the Hinton Police Department with the investigation.

The police chief said there is no known motive for the arson at this time.

Hinton Mayor Joe Blankenship said he was proud of the police force, most of whom worked through the night on the investigation which led to a swift arrest.

“Tragedies like these are hard but it makes you proud that our city and community can come together for a quick response,” he added.

Officials are not sure of the number of people displaced by the fire, but Blankenship said American Red Cross representatives from Beckley would meet with victims Tuesday and find shelter for everyone by nightfall.

Area resident Maria Torres said donations for the families are being collected at J.L. Massie Insurance Inc., located at 217 Temple St.

Summers County 911 said all fire departments in the county responded to the scene, including Forest Hill, Hinton, Jumping Branch, Sandstone and Talcott.

— E-mail: splummer@register-herald.com