Arson Caused James Brown Blaze

Augusta, Ga., investigator finds 'multiple accelerants' in ashes of fire that destroyed memorabilia, damaged office building.

Arson caused the fire that severely damaged funk legend James Brown's Augusta, Ga., office building Friday, the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department determined on Wednesday (May 3).

Fire department investigator Lt. G.B. Hannan found "multiple accelerants" in samples of ashes from the fire, according to Katrice Bryant, public information officer for the fire department.

"Several fires were set in the [James Brown Enterprises] office building," she said. "We are on the lookout for any and all information regarding the fire." The department is not releasing any information about the nature of the accelerants or the exact number of fires, Bryant said. She noted that such information could taint an investigation by tipping off potential suspects as to how much information the department has.

Lost in the fire were unreleased master tapes and memorabilia worth tens of thousands of dollars, according to collectors' estimates.

According to Brown's Augusta lawyer, Buddy Dallas, a door was open and the alarm had not engaged when firefighters arrived on the scene at 9:45 p.m. Friday.

Dallas, who toured the site early Saturday, said it was apparent to him that the fire was set deliberately. "It started in three separate locations, all places where Mr. Brown had stored financial records," he said.

But Hannan found that the fire started in four locations, including the lobby, according to Bryant.

Damage On Both Levels

The fire caused extensive damage to the second floor, and water and smoke caused serious damage on the first floor, according to Jim Vause of Liberty Security, which handles protection for Brown. Dallas said he is awaiting word from the singer's insurance firm as to the dollar amount of the damage. He also said he already has begun negotiating with contractors to rebuild the structure or construct a building in a different location.

The office building, on the outskirts of western Augusta, was a freestanding, two-story structure, Dallas said. It was located in an office park that includes doctor's offices and pharmacies, he said. Brown bought the building about 15 years ago and remodeled it, Dallas added.

Since Saturday morning, Bryant said, the fire department has been questioning employees of James Brown Enterprises, which handles the singer's tour bookings as well as programming for WAAW-FM, an Augusta radio station the singer owns. Brown — who was performing in Norfolk, Va., at the time of the blaze — has not been questioned, but investigators have questioned Dallas, she said.

None of the employees, or the singer, is considered a suspect, Bryant said.

"They've all been very cooperative," she said. "We're asking them to remember every little detail, which is hard when you've lost something sentimental."

The state's Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner has opened an arson hot line that offers a reward of up to $10,000 for information that leads to an arsonist's arrest and conviction. Georgia residents may call the Georgia Arson Hotline at (800) 282-5804. Outside of the state, anyone with information should call the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department at (706) 821-2900.

Dallas said Brown is offering a $20,000 reward for such information.

Movie Memorabilia, Other Irreplaceable Items Lost

No official list enumerates lost items, the lawyer said. But known to be destroyed were capes the singer wore onstage in the 1960s and 1970s and gold and platinum records, some of which are irreplaceable, as the labels that issued them are defunct.

Also lost was a set of boxing gloves from the 1986 movie "Rocky IV" signed by actor Sylvester Stallone — in which Brown performed his hit "Living in America" — and a robe Brown wore when he played a preacher in the 1980 movie "The Blues Brothers."

Record and music memorabilia collector Mark Allen Baker said the gold and platinum records could be worth upwards of $10,000, while the stage costumes would likely fetch several thousand dollars each at auction. Baker is the author of "Goldmine's Price Guide to Rock and Roll Memorabilia."

James Brown Enterprises relocated to the WAAW's offices Monday. Officials from James Brown Enterprises did not return phone calls.

Dallas said he planned to have dinner with Brown on Wednesday, the singer's 67th birthday. "Today's the first day I've even been able to get any conversation out of him," Dallas said. "He's just so distraught."