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Officials investigating why Coast waterfront homes caught fire

Businessman George Mears of California owns this home that caught fire while under construction on U.S. 90 in Long Beach. The fire remains under investigation.
Businessman George Mears of California owns this home that caught fire while under construction on U.S. 90 in Long Beach. The fire remains under investigation.

The origins of fires at a home on Biloxi’s Back Bay and another on the Mississippi Sound in Long Beach remained under investigation Monday, fire chiefs from both cities said.

The house on Back Bay was heavily damaged Sunday. Framing for the Long Beach home, still under construction, was destroyed Wednesday.

The owner of the Biloxi home is a Hattiesburg attorney who did not want his name used. He was at the home Monday and said he was not happy to see photos of the fire plastered Sunday on Facebook. He said he does plan to rebuild the elevated house in the quiet Kensington Drive neighborhood, nestled between the bay and Keesler Air Force Base.

The fire apparently started in the attic, Biloxi Fire Chief Joe Boney said.

He said the post-Katrina construction is great for hurricane protection and energy efficiency, but tough on fire fighters. Boney said fire fighters had to keep retreating from the second floor, the main floor of the house, where they were trying to beat down the attic fire. The smoke and heat were heavy, he said, because of the house was so tightly sealed and had spray foam insulation under the roof.

He said firefighters eventually worked from a platform on a ladder truck to cut a hole in the roof.

“The construction of that house was a major issue for us,” Boney said.

He said the fire was reported at 4:15 p.m. Sunday, less than two hours after the owners had gone. Firefighters fought it for three hours, he said.

In Long Beach, a motorist passing on U.S. 90 saw the fire at the house under construction and reported it at 5:20 a.m. Wednesday. The owner, businessman George Mears of California, was on the Coast Monday to check on the house. Mears also said he plans to rebuild.

Assistant Fire Chief Griff Skellie is in charge of the investigation in Long Beach. He said he is working with the state fire marshal’s office. Skellie said the fire initially was reported as being in Gulfport. When the Gulfport Fire Department responded, firefighters could see the home blazing several blocks west of the city line and continued ahead to start battling the fire.

Gulfport and Long Beach worked together over the next two hours to put it out. Skellie said several fires also had to be snuffed from oak trees that had been damaged during Hurricane Katrina. Embers ignited rotten spots in the trees, he said.

“There was a lot of fire,” he said.

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99

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