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Authorities call fire at dealership suspicious

A salesman at Wayne Frier Manufactured Home Center estimates the damage exceeded $100,000. The state fire marshal's office is investigating.

A fire early Thursday damaged or destroyed as many as nine mobile homes for sale on the lot of a Homosassa dealer, leading authorities to investigate the blaze as suspicious.

A Citrus County sheriff's deputy driving along U.S. 19 shortly after 2 a.m. noticed flames rising in the back of Wayne Frier Manufactured Home Center at 1485 S Suncoast Blvd., according to sheriff's spokeswoman Gail Tierney.

By the time firefighters reached the lot, several of the homes were engulfed in flames. Tierney said the investigating deputy estimated that as many as five homes were destroyed. Wayne Frier Manufactured Home Center sells new and used mobile homes.

"It does appear suspicious in nature, because these were not homes that were being lived in," Tierney said. "The state fire marshal is looking into the cause and origin of the fire."

Tierney said the fire marshal's office is leading the investigation, with the Sheriff's Office assisting.

Fire marshal investigator Jimmy Pinner was at the scene early Thursday but could not be reached for comment late in the day. A spokeswoman for the agency said the investigation is ongoing, but she would not comment further.

None of the mobile homes were occupied, and no injuries were reported, Tierney said.

Firefighting units from the county's west side fought the blaze, including departments from Homosassa, Connell Heights, Chassahowitzka and Crystal River. The fire first was reported at 2:19 a.m.

Salesman Chad Davis said he could not comment specifically on the total financial loss to the dealership, but he said it exceeded $100,000. At least one structure, a trade-in, burned to the ground, and several others suffered extensive damage to half or more of the unit. The damaged units were insured.

Davis said he was unaware of possible causes for the fire, but he said other nearby businesses recently suffered vandalism.

"I don't know if this is like a random thing, or if somebody hates somebody here," Davis said.

Investigators have posted signs in the area offering rewards for information about the fire. Before the fire, the dealership had about 60 homes for sale on the lot on U.S. 19, Davis said.

At the blaze's peak early Thursday, workers had to tow away undamaged homes to protect them from the spreading fire. The dealer was open for business Thursday.