GCSO investigating a suspicious fire that ended up burning down old Ashurst school with a torched car

Contributed Photo/Courtesy GCSO: The old Ashurst school near Fort Thomas and a Nissan Maxima were burned in a perceived act of arson on Sunday.  

By Jon Johnson

jonjohnsonnews@gmail.com

FORT THOMAS – The Graham County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a suspicious fire that erupted Sunday as arson. 

The fire was first reported at about 12:30 p.m. when a neighboring farmer noticed a black plume of smoke from the old Ashurst school which is located on another farmer’s property near milepost 311 of U.S. Highway 70. Prior to being a school the building also served as a church.

According to a  GCSO report, the farmer called the landowner and headed over to help douse the fire. Once inside the building, he saw a vehicle was on fire inside but hadn’t quite caught the building on fire yet. The vehicle was later identified as a Nissan Maxima registered to a Safford couple. A deputy attempted to inform the vehicle owners of the situation, but upon arrival at their home found the front door of the residence slightly ajar but nobody answered the deputy’s query. On Friday, the Gila Herald was informed that the owners of the vehicle were found safe later and were not aware their vehicle was missing.

Contributed Photo/Courtesy GCSO: The structure was completely destroyed.

The Fort Thomas Fire Department arrived and knocked down most of the fire. However, the building burned throughout the night and was treated as a controlled burn after the initial firefighting attempt. No injured parties were found in the vehicle or building.

The landowner said the building hadn’t been in use for some time and there shouldn’t have been any vehicles inside.  

Investigators at the scene, including a Pima Police officer, noted there appeared to be an accelerant used. The case remains under investigation for arson, criminal damage, and burglary in the third degree. Anyone with information is encouraged to call the Graham County Sheriff’s Office at (928) 428-3100 or text its tip hotline by texting “GRHAMTIP” to 79516 followed by your message. The tip hotline is anonymous. 

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