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Mansion fire remains under investigation
Authorities looking for witnesses
The Gainesville Fire Department is seeking help in determining the cause of the fire Sunday in this house that was under construction at 1208 Riverside Drive. - photo by Tom Reed

Gainesville fire officials are asking for the public’s help in the probe of a fire that severely damaged an unfinished $2 million home on Riverside Drive Sunday.

"We haven’t called it an arson fire yet, but it has some suspicion," Gainesville Fire Marshal Jerome Yarbrough said.

Said Gainesville interim Fire Chief Jon Canada, "We don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle put together."

The 12,000-square-foot brick, stone and cedar tile home, owned by Benny Simms, was about two weeks from completion when the fire started on a rear second-story deck sometime before 3:30 p.m. Sunday. A 10-year-old girl from the Riverside Estates subdivision behind the house saw smoke and called 911.

Officials said winds of 20 to 30 mph quickly fed the flames, which broke through rear glass doors that led from the deck and spread throughout the home.

Firefighters were able to knock down the flames inside the house before the fire could break out to the exterior.

While the outside of the home shows few signs of a fire, up to $1 million in smoke, heat, water and fire damage was caused inside, Canada said.

No furnishings were in the home at the time. Simms was out of town when the fire started.

The house, which has been under construction for 15 months, sits next door to the Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints on a portion of road well-traveled by joggers and walkers. Officials are hoping someone saw something that can help them.

"We have to eliminate every aspect of what it could be or couldn’t be," Canada said. "If anybody saw any activity at that residence or around that area of 1208 Riverside Drive from late Saturday evening to the time of the fire, we’d like for them to call us."

Anyone with information is asked to call Gainesville fire officials at 770-534-3612.