Investigators rule Dollar General fire as arson -, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Investigators rule Dollar General fire as arson

April 17, 2006

Clay County-- Many Fort Gaine residents are shocked after an early morning fire destroyed what many of them say was an important piece of their community.

Now, investigators are looking for who started the fire, apparently to cover up something else.

People in the small town of Fort Gaines say they had to see it to believe it. "When me and my son came up, he was like oh my gosh Mom, the store is on fire. He said I just want to cry. It's like our own home," says Wanda Ferguson.

"Right now, I don't know whether I should cry or just stare at it because it is a valuable asset to the town," says Ryan Ferguson.

Along Hancock Street, cars stop to see what remains of the Dollar General Store, a store that many have come to depend on for the past few years.

"Everybody shopped there," says Ellen May.

"This is my first time seeing it, and it's just a shock that something like this could happen in Fort Gaines," says Natasha Johnson.

Those outside of Fort Gaines may see it as just another Dollar Store but for residents like Wanda and Ryan Ferguson, it means much more. "Actually it's our Wal-mart for Fort Gaines," says Wanda. "If we had a Wal-mart, that would probably give one a run for its money because everybody is always there," says Ryan.

Now, the store is all but gone. Broken glass and debris surrounds the Dollar General. The once bright, yellow and black sign is now melted away to the ground beneath it.

"Well, it's a tragedy for Fort Gaines," says Ellen May. A tragedy that was no accident. Investigators say it's arson to cover up another crime.

"That's terrible. I hate to hear that, that somebody would do something like that," says May. At about 4 a.m the store was broken into and a safe was stolen. GBI and local police now look for clues as to who may have committed arson.

"I hope they go to jail," says Johnson.

Loyal shoppers say they'll miss their local one-stop shop but the main sign that still remains serves as hope that it will soon return.

Firefighters from all surrounding counties including Randolph and Early and even Alabama counties responded to the blaze. With so many firefighters on the scene, they say thankfully no one was hurt.