Gulfport Man Charged With Arson; Neighbors Rely On Red Cross

By Danielle Thomas - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport police say a man intentionally set a fire that forced dozens of his neighbors from their homes. Christopher Lovell Brown, 29, is charged with arson in connection with a fire Sunday afternoon at an apartment building on Cuandet Road. Brown is being held at the Harrison County jail on $25,000 bond.

Fire investigators say Brown set his living room couch on fire, but aren't saying what Brown used to start blaze. That fire spread from Brown's apartment to his neighbors' apartments.

The Gulfport fire chief says the apartment fire forced more than 20 people to find somewhere else to stay. Some were able to turn to relatives, but not everyone had that option. That's where the American Red Cross stepped in to help eight families.

Bill Brent is director of the Gulf Coast chapter of the Red Cross.

"We have about 20 hotels that work with us and give us very good rates, so we can afford to put those people up. They're not able to donate those rooms, of course, but they do make those rooms much more affordable for us, so we can afford to give those folks two to three nights lodging."

Last year, the Red Cross responded to 120 house fires in Hancock, Harrison, and Pearl River counties, spending $75,000 in emergency shelter, food, clothing, medications and more. Brent said, in years past, the price tag has run as high $120,000 with even more spent on the national level.

"This is the number one disaster that American Red Cross responds to nationally each year, single family fires," said Brent. "Out of those 70,000 about 65,000 of those are single family fires. The others, of course, are the bigger incidents that people hear about - hurricanes, tornadoes, flood. Those are the ones that get the visibility. But it's those fires in the middle of the night that we respond to that people don't often see."

One fire victim who didn't want to talk on camera said he is very grateful for the help he and his roommate received from the Red Cross. He said he is also deeply touched knowing that help was paid for by people who cared enough to give.

"We wouldn't be able to do this. Every dollar to the American Red Cross is a donated dollar," said Brent. "That's where those dollars go."