GULFPORT — Authorities arrested the owner of a Gulfport hardware store late Friday on an arson charge a day after a blaze destroyed his business.
David Cretella, 64, gave inconsistent statements to fire officials during their investigation to determine the cause of the fire that swept through the Gulfport Hardware Store, 5006 Gulfport Blvd. S, just before 8:30 p.m. Thursday, authorities said.
Evidence of arson was also uncovered through video surveillance, according to Gulfport police. They did not provide more specific details of what the surveillance showed. In determining the cause of the blaze, fire investigators found two areas of origin and no signs of an accidental ignition, police said. The rapid spread of the blaze also suggested that it was intentionally set.
Before his arrest, Cretella told a Times reporter Friday that he was shocked by the damage. Blackened windows, charred equipment and debris decorated the building. Paint cans littered the parking lot, sidewalk and street.
"My stomach just fell about 3 feet down to my knees," Cretella said, noting that the building was insured. "I've been here for seven years, and I never … I've never had a fire before."
Cretella was booked Friday night in the Pinellas County Jail and held without bond.
The store was closed Thursday when the fire broke out. A pair of Gulfport police officers noticed the heavy smoke and flames and notified firefighters.
The pop of exploding paint cans cut through the crackle of fire as dozens of firefighters fought a roaring blaze.
It took firefighters until 3 a.m. Friday to extinguish the flames as dozens of passersby looked on.
"The flames were shooting straight through the roof," said Lou Worthington, a Community Emergency Response Team volunteer who served firefighters water and food Thursday night. "Paint cans kept exploding out the building. Some flew all the way across the street."
Damage from the fire was estimated at $600,000.
In 2008, Cretella and his business were the subject of a Times story highlighting locally owned businesses. Cretella told of how he started the business in February 2006 and spoke about competing with the likes of Home Depot and other large chains at a time when mom-and-pop stores were losing business.