At least two suspects are being sought in connection with the December fire that gutted the main building at the Alfred Washburn Center in Pensacola.
There were no injuries as the fire destroyed the main building at the center. The investigation by the state Fire Marshal’s office continues, along with the search for the suspects: both men, one white and the other African-American. Ashley Carr with the state Fire Marshal’s Office didn’t go into detail about the exact cause of the blaze, but she did confirm that it started in the attic. “From the point of origin of the fire, there are certain indications of where the fire starts,” says Carr. “I don’t know if we have any tests that are positive for accelerant. And the video surveillance is by far and wide the most conclusive evidence that we have at this point, that shows the two individuals at the scene of the crime, at the time of the fire.”
Video shows a suspect in a white hoodie outside of the building around 7:40 p.m. on December 9. The fire was reported about 20 minutes later. For now, there’s no word on method or motive. Washburn Director Chuck Porter – who concedes that he’s not kept close tabs on the investigation – says the 10x46 foot mobile home brought in after the fire has worked well – with only five days of service missed. “We are providing all of the services that we had been providing to the area’s homeless with some limitations,” Porter said. “The building that was destroyed by fire has been razed.” Those services include mail delivery, laundry cleaning and free lunches for the area’s homeless. The Washburn Center serves an average of 135 clients daily, and more than 200 on some occasions. Currently, Porter says they’ve had ongoing, positive discussions with the center’s insurance firm, Christian Brothers of Chicago. The new structure will also be more specialized towards the care of homeless that was the old structure, which was built in the 1940s as a residence. Groundbreaking for the new facility is expected to be announced in the next few weeks. For now, anyone with information about the arson is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at 433-STOP. Those wishing to volunteer at the Washburn Center can call 723-6790.