Fire at Cape go-cart track intentional, authorities say

Wednesday, September 3, 2008
CHUCK WU ~ photos@semissourian.com The owner of Big River Grandprix Kerry Johnson and Fire Marshall Michael Morgan talking about the fire happened last night.

The buildings at the Big River Grand Prix go-cart track, Cape Girardeau's only such track, burnt nearly to the ground early Tuesday morning under suspicious circumstances, authorities said.

Tuesday morning, agents from the state fire marshal's office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as investigators from the Cape Girardeau police and fire departments, combed for evidence in the remains of the recreational facility at 610 Commercial St.

In addition to extensive damage sustained by three buildings on the premises, parts of the artificial grass on the attached miniature golf course burned, leaving scorched concrete. Cape Girardeau fire investigators estimated about $300,000 worth of damage to the facility.

Authorities believe the fire was intentionally set, said Butch Amann, an investigator with the state fire marshal's office.

"There are things about it that warrant further investigation, " he said.

Amann said there was evidence the blaze may have originated at more than one spot and that an accelerant had been used.

Firefighters responded to the call of a structure fire just before 4 a.m. Tuesday. The three buildings that made up the facility were all engulfed by the blaze when firefighters arrived.

Three engines responded to battle the blaze and had it under control by 4:18 a.m.

Because the fire occurred at a business, firefighters immediately went into investigation mode, according to Cape Girardeau Fire Department Capt. Mark Starnes.

Amann said he did not believe the incident was related to other suspicious fires that have plagued Cape Girardeau during the past few years.

More than 10 suspicious fires have occurred within Cape Girardeau city limits since April 2005.

One of the fires was fatal: On April 29, an arson at 203 S. Pacific St. claimed the life of 42-year-old George Robinson, a tenant in the building.

The fire at the go-cart track occurred under an "entirely different set of circumstances," Amann said.

This was the first of the unsolved suspicious fires to occur at a business.

Kerry Johnson has owned the track for just over a decade. He said he plans to have the track up and running again by spring.

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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