This is Marcia Lane, your roving reporter.
The State Fire Marshal is looking at the Florida Furniture fire in Palatka Sunday as a possible arson. A pillar of smoke could be seen from Hastings as the front portion of the century-old building burned. The fire was reported around 4:15 p.m. and Fire Chief Chris Taylor said the fire was out by 6 p.m. No injuries were reported. The one-time furniture factory has been closed about 15 years and was not in use nor does it have electricity. River Street was still crowded with fire trucks and police cars around 9 p.m. although by 11:30 no vehicles were reported at the site, which is across from the old Wilson Cypress company on the St. Johns River. Destroyed were the front offices, which included heart pine and cypress. The three-story brick building known as the steam room is still standing. An earlier development effort saw the right brick wing torn down. At 7:30 this morning a Palatka fire truck was at the site, lights flashing, as a Jacksonville news crew filmed footage. The property is next to a number of historic houses in the South Historic District and homeowners spent some anxious hours as the wind shifted.
A little history on Florida Furniture: At an October Palatka City Commission meeting prospective developer Colin Bingham presented an ambitious $147 million development plan for the two pieces of property. The Florida Furniture site and Wilson Cypress property are currently owned by Anastasia Square Mills LLC. The late Norm Jutras Sr. bought Florida Furniture in January 2005. His son now heads the LLC. Florida Furniture, organized in 1930, bought the Selden Cypress Door Company and began making furniture. In 1985 Florida Furniture built a new facility at the Putnam Barge Port in 1985 and for a time kept the mill running. According to public records, they filed for bankruptcy in 2002 and eventually lost both properties with BT Properties LLC acquiring them and later selling to Jutras .
Public school students, teachers and staff in Putnam and Flagler counties are on break for Christmas. St. Johns County schools will begin their holidays Wednesday.
About 670 FPL customers in Palatka’s downtown area found themselves without power Sunday for about an hour. Damage to FPL property was cited and may have been tied to the fire at Florida Furniture. Power went off at 6:20 and was back up around 7:30.
For people who found the weather unseasonably warm, get ready for a plethora of North Florida weather changes. A cold front is moving through with what’s described as a “significant” nor’easter coming across the First Coast beginning with showers and highs in the low 60s today. Tuesday should see the main impacts of the nor’easter including heavy rainfall. Wednesday winds will continue to be gusty but skies will begin to clear.
A convicted felon and drug dealer is behind bars in Flagler County facing new charges after a high-speed chase. Davis Howard Jr. was arrested after being pulled over in his Maserati Friday on State Road 100. The 32-year-old, who has 43 convictions, called his mother during the chase and she reportedly got him to stop the car. Stop sticks helped too. Howard and the woman with him has been in Palatka and were headed to Orlando when a Flagler deputy tried to stop them for speeding. Howard, who got out of his car with hands raised, had 44 grams of Oxycodone, eight grams of marijuana and more than $5,000 in the car. He now faces several drug charges.
With the countdown on to Christmas, don’t forget a number of federal, state and local government agencies will be closing early. Garbage and trash service will be affected.
And if you’re Christmas shopping, don’t forget you’re running out of time to buy some one-of-a-kind creations from the Palatka Art League. The League’s Holiday House at 324 River Street will be closed after Dec. 23.