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Man charged in house fire

Clyde Ray Huffer may have been putting on a good act, but, according to law enforcement officials, it wasn't good enough.

Two weeks after Huffer shed tears beside the smoldering remains of his Cyril Drive home, the Hernando County Sheriff's Office arrested him Thursday and charged him with setting fire to his own house to try to collect insurance money.

Huffer, 42, had blamed the fire on a gas grill. He said he was getting ready to make a hamburger, then left the house and forgot to turn off the grill, which was on the porch.

In fact, arson investigators said, Huffer doused the inside of his $120,000 house at 5204 Cyril Drive with a flammable liquid, then torched it.

"He was in a financial bind," said Rex Hinkle, an investigator with the state fire marshal's office.

Fire destroyed the house on the morning of June 1.

Afterward, Huffer told investigators and reporters that he had been preparing to grill a hamburger when he got a phone call from his boss. It wasn't until he reached the boss's house, he said, that he remembered the grill was still on.

"I came back to turn the gas grill off, and this is what I found," he said at the time.

Investigators had doubts immediately.

Hinkle declined to say what tipped them off, saying only, "We had some problems with the fire scene initially."

Investigators say they soon discovered that Huffer also had money problems.

"He just got in a bind, and I guess he didn't see a way out," Hinkle said. "It's a real shame."

Hinkle said it's not unusual for arson suspects to feign despair at the scene. "They act like everything they own is gone. They act very concerned," he said. "It's often a front."

Huffer, whose house was insured by State Farm Insurance, faces an arson charge and two charges of trying to defraud the insurance company.

He was jailed Thursday evening in lieu of $35,000 bail, and remained at Hernando County Jail on Friday.