Investigators suspect arson may have caused Friday's fire that seriously damaged James Brown's Augusta, Ga., business headquarters and destroyed much of the singer's personal memorabilia including gold records and photographs of the singer with such dignitaries as Pope John Paul II and presidents George Bush and Jimmy Carter.
"This is a devastating blow to Mr. Brown," said Jim Vause, president of Liberty Security, which protects the singer's home and protects him while he's on tour. Liberty did not handle protection for James Brown Enterprises, but the firm posted guards there Saturday to prevent looting.
While no dollar estimate of damage was available at press time, Vause said the fire caused extensive damage to the building's second floor. Several offices on the first floor, including Brown's, were damaged by smoke and water. No one was in the building when firefighters arrived on the scene at 9:45 p.m.
Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department Investigator G.B. Hannan said the fire appeared to have been caused by a petroleum-based fire accelerant, which was found in several locations in the burned building, according to The Augusta Chronicle. Samples were sent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab in Atlanta for analysis. Results of the analysis were expected sometime Monday or Tuesday (May 2). Hannan did not return phone calls Monday.
Vause said Brown visited the scene when he returned at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday morning from a Virginia concert. He said he is stunned that the blaze might have been arson.
"To think that someone would do this intentionally, I can't imagine," Vause said. "Mr. Brown has no ax to grind with anybody."
Vause said the blaze would not affect the singer's performing schedule. The 66-year-old Brown, who redefined funk music with such hits as "I Got You (I Feel Good)" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" (RealAudio excerpt), next performs May 9 in Anaheim, Calif. The singer was unavailable for comment on the fire.
James Brown Enterprises employs more than a dozen people, who handle the singer's concerts and tours, as well as programming for his Augusta radio station, the Chronicle reported. Vause expected that James Brown Enterprises would move its operations to the radio station or to the singer's home while the decision is made whether to permanently relocate or rebuild.
Much of the memorabilia is irreplaceable, Vause said. "This will hurt Mr. Brown terribly," he said. "But he's faced struggles before and always comes back."