21-year-old charged with arson for fire that injured two firefighters


Photo courtesy: Walton County Sheriff's Office

SANTA ROSA BEACH, Fla. (WEAR) A 21-year-old man is facing arson charges after a bonfire got out of control and destroyed residential building.

Witnesses told authorities they saw Jim Watkins start the fire with a lighter inside the abandoned property.

On February 6, the fire department responded to Jans Way in Santa Rosa Beach for a report of a working fire.

The fire quickly destroyed the unfinished residential building, but crews were able to control the fire and keep it from spreading to the surrounding heavily wooded area. The second and third floor of the unfinished home fell, leaving a concrete shell of the first floor garage.

Two South Walton Fire District firefighters were hit by a large piece of debris that snapped off the exterior wall as it collapsed while they were fighting the fire.

A multi-agency investigation, including South Walton Fire District, Walton County Sheriff's Office and the State of Florida Fire Marshal's Office, revealed this fire was indeed arson.

"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 combating 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'", Talbert said.

Watkins was booked into the Walton County Jail with a $10,000 bond. He was released Tuesday morning after posting bond.

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