The fire that ravaged the back half of the historic Grant Bly House at 842 E. New York Ave. the night of Oct. 1 is not considered to be criminal in nature, according to the DeLand Fire Department. The cause, however, is still unknown.
The house, built in 1910 and in recent years remodeled to serve as an event venue, was currently being renovated into Hatters Sports Lounge by Ben Mireles, a San Antonio native who moved to DeLand with his wife and young son 18 months ago.
According to Mireles, between 11:30 and 11:45 p.m. Oct. 1, he got a phone call from a man who had been spending nights in the house to provide on-site protection after recent vandalism.
“Matt, my security guy, he called and said, ‘I can’t get out, I’m caught inside – your place is on fire,’ and then the phone cut out,” Mireles said.
“I thought maybe it was a joke — Matt is a funny guy. But when I couldn’t get back to him, I came straight here.”
Mireles, who said he lives nearby, arrived to find the property aflame and swarming with firefighters, and his employee, Matthew Chickonski, en route to the hospital in Sanford.
Photos from the fire scene show flames reaching from the roof of the Grant Bly House to the Spanish moss on trees overhanging the house. Apartments nearby were evacuated.
The DeLand Fire Department was assisted in controlling the blaze by Orange City Fire Rescue and Volusia County Emergency Medical Services. The State Fire Marshal was also on the scene to begin an investigation.
The employee was the only person hurt.
“He was smart, he dropped to the floor, and busted out a window and crawled onto the roof of the game room,” Mireles said.
An adjacent building is almost fully renovated as a game area. It was from that roof that the security guard was plucked by firefighters.
“He [was] in Sanford in a medically induced coma. They put him under to intubate him because of the smoke inhalation,” Mireles said.
Chickonski was released from the hospital Oct. 3.
The fire, which is still being investigated, substantially damaged the back end of the property where the kitchen was located. DeLand Chief Building Official Patrick Hubbard arrived while The Beacon was on the scene and was unsure if the front half of the building is salvageable.
“It’s gonna be close,” Hubbard said.
It was only yesterday, Mireles said, that a 65-year-old woman stopped by the property to relive memories of her wedding.
“All these families and memories — and the community has been so supportive — I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I can’t believe it. It’s all my work, all my money. I was doing this for my family and for the community. We were three weeks from opening.”
Mireles, who is leasing-to-own the building, said his business is currently uninsured.
While waiting for his business license from the state, Mireles had big plans for the property, which was envisioned as a family-style bar and restaurant.
The property owner is Frog Adventures Inc., whose president, Ronald DeFilippo, owns properties in Ormond Beach, DeLand and Gainesville. DeFilippo said he does have insurance on the property.
After learning of the fire, DeFilippo drove to DeLand from Gainesville Tuesday morning, he said.
The Grant Bly parcel, which extends half a block to the south, is partially zoned as an education site, according to Mireles.
“We were going to build a community center, something for the kids,” Mireles said.
Now Mireles must wait and see if his business is salvageable.
“I don’t want to leave it like this,” he said, “I have to finish it.”