HILTON HEAD

Suspicious fire burns down Hilton Head man's shed

astice@islandpacket.comAugust 21, 2012 

Hilton Head Islander Joseph Miller stands amid the wreckage of his shed and his son's car on Tuesday. Miller says an arsonist started the fire early Sunday, destroying the car and $40,000 worth of tools stored in the shed.

JAY KARR -- STAFF PHOTO

Hilton Head islander Joseph Miller thanks God the suspicious fire that consumed his work shed early Monday didn't spread to his home, where his children were sleeping.

The blaze, however, did claim about $35,000 in tools and building materials that the 61-year-old handyman, whose friends call him "Bishop," has acquired over a lifetime.

All that's left of the storage shed now is a pile of charred rubble surrounded by caution tape. Two large oak trees in the yard are blackened from the flames, and he'll probably lose those, too. Parked next to where the shed once stood is the burned shell of his 18-year-old son's car. It was the only transportation his son had to his new job in Bluffton, Miller said.

The Hilton Head Fire & Rescue Division says the fire wasn't an accident.

At about 3:45 a.m. Monday, Miller and two of his four adult children who still live at home were awakened by a smoke detector. They fled to find the shed on fire.

Four engines, one medic unit, a truck company and a battalion chief from the division battled the blaze until nearly 4:30 a.m.

The flames licked the outside walls of a bedroom that juts out into the yard.

"My son's bedroom is still livable, thanks to God," Miller said. "I don't know how it didn't get real smoky. God stopped it."

Miller built the home himself, and many others that dot the island. The home once served as a church, which is how he got his nickname. He's lived in it since 1971.

Fire & Rescue Division spokeswoman Joheida Fister said the storage shed contained appliances, wood flooring tiles, paint cans and other remnants of Miller's building career. The fire started in an outside back corner, she said.

"There was no electrical (wiring) in the shed," Fister said. "We hadn't had any storm where we could say it potentially started from a lightning strike. We ruled out anything that could have been accidental, and then at that point, we call in the Sheriff's Office."

Sgt. Robin McIntosh of the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office said the fire is under investigation. Debris will be collected and sent to a lab to test for accelerants. There are no suspects yet, McIntosh said.

Miller hopes neighbors and residents will help him fill up his toolbox again. He is seeking donations, especially a cheap car that someone might no longer need so his son can get to his job.

The car that was destroyed in the flames was a 1993 Chevrolet Caprice, special to him because the model has been discontinued.

"They don't make them no more," Miller said. "Now it's gone in history."

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