07/15/04 — Fire destroys Dudley gas station; cause undertermined

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Fire destroys Dudley gas station; cause undertermined

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on July 15, 2004 1:59 PM

DUDLEY -- Best Gas and Grill, a combination service station and grocery store, was destroyed before dawn today in a fire.

The cause of the fire at the store at 4453 U.S. 117 Alternate South is being investigated, but one official said he did not suspect arson.

The damage to the building and its contents was estimated at $460,000.

Volunteer firefighters were able to save an adjacent building, valued at $400,000, and its contents, valued at $200,000.

The owner, Ray Oliver Best Jr., who lives nearby, told deputies that he heard his business alarm sound at 2:41 a.m. Then he called the store and got no answer. When he arrived, he saw the front of the grocery store on fire and more than 40 firefighters battling the blaze.

"It was rolling," said Dudley Fire Chief Kendall Lee. "Fire was coming out of every hole."

The fire was controlled in about 30 minutes by 15 Dudley, 15 Arrington and 12 Mount Olive volunteers. Each department brought three trucks. The firefighters remained until about 6 p.m. to finish salvage work and to investigate the cause.

"I never would have guessed that it would have gutted a store like that," Lee said. "I didn't think that there was that much in the store that would burn like that."

The building was valued at $300,000 and contents at another $160,000.

Lee also called the Sheriff's Office to investigate the cause. Cpl. Joe Smith arrived first and called for an arson investigator, Detective Sgt. Shawn Harris.

Brian Taylor, an Emergency Services fire specialist, also responded and notified the State Bureau of Investigation. Special Agent Johnnie E. Umphlet arrived this morning to assist in the inquiry.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation at mid-morning. Lee said he did not think that it was caused by arson.