21-year-old arrested for arson
A bonfire at a construction site turned into a multi-story fire leading to one arrest for arson, according to a Tuesday morning press release from the State Fire Marshal's Office.
On Feb. 6, the South Walton Fire District responded to a fire on Jans Way in Santa Rosa Beach. As they worked to control the fire from entering the wood line the second and third floor of the unfinished home eventually fell leaving a concrete shell of the first floor garage.
Two SWFD firefighters were injured when they were struck by a large piece of debris that snapped off the exterior wall as it collapsed. The firefighters were treated on scene and released back to duty.
In sworn statements witnesses stated that while attending a party in the area, they saw Jim Brody Watkins, 21, start the fire inside the abandoned property using a lighter to ignite papers inside the structure. The fire quickly destroyed the unfinished residential building, but SWFD crews were able to contain the blaze not allowing it to extend into the surrounding heavily wooded area.
A multi-agency investigation including South Walton Fire District, Walton County Sherriff’s Office, and The State of Florida Fire Marshal’s Office resulted in the arrest of Jim Watkins for arson.
“Our first responders put their lives on the line every day to protect our citizens,” said Sheriff Michael Adkinson. “But, this fire was intentionally set. It wasn’t a kitchen fire. It wasn’t accidental. This was an intentional act that could have cost firefighters their lives.”
“We take arson very seriously,” said SWFD Chief Rick Talbert. “Any intentional act to damage property is one thing, but when two of our firefighters are injured while combatting an arson fire it makes it worse; the mission of the South Walton Fire District is hazardous enough without someone setting intentional fires.
“We’d like to thank our law enforcement partners for their hard work and especially thank our community for coming forward and not accepting this as ‘just a mistake’.”
Watkins was transported and booked into the Walton County Jail on Monday, Feb. 23. He was released this morning just after 9:30 a.m. after posting bond in the amount of $10,000.