If Scottsville had not survived four James River floods in the past eight years-not to mention occupation by Sheridan's Raiders and Gen. George A. Custer during the Civil War - people here might be more upset that someone now seems to be burning down the town.
Even with all that, they are not exactly thrilled.
"What worries me is what happens next," said Wilson L. Dansey, whose lumber yard and building supply company went up in smoke last year. "We've got somebody sick around here."
Last year 32 buildings flanked the two-block Main Street in this James River town of 300 located about 20 miles south of Charlottesville. This year only 25 remain, plus three charred lots holding the ruins of Dansey's lumber business, a 140-year-old Methodist Church and a century-old feed mill and general store. Two flame-damaged houses face one fire site. The site of a burnt-out Exxon station has been rebuilt.
Arson inspectors from the state fire marshall's office have been probing the still-smoldering rubble from the latest blaze for nearly two weeks. Scottsville residents, alarmed at the progression of blazes, have posted more than $3,000 in reward money for the arrest and prosecution of the arsonist at large.
So far, authorities say, there are few clues.
The fires began the night of Feb. 26, 1976, when flames roared through and destroyed an aging frame hotel and the Exxon station near the main downtown intersection.
Two nights later another fire destroyed the lumber firm and church, plus several nearby outbuildings, and heavily damaged two houses.
On Feb. 28, the first anniversary of the second blaze, while the town fire department was away battling a blaze in an abandoned house at Schuyler, 16 miles away, another fire broke out. This one was in the old Scottsville Flour Mills, a mammoth four story from building where Caleb N. Denby and his son, Keith sold everything from horse collars and plows to chicken feed and cow manure.
"We had just gotten in our spring inventory," the older Denby said later. "There's not a thing left."
The latest fire broke out about 1:30 a.m. in the rear of the building, no where near any electrical wiring or other logical source, and roared out of control for 3 1/2 hours.
By the time the firemen got back from Schuyler, all they could do was play water on the other nearby buildings, including the converted filling station across the street where Dansey was trying to run his building material business once again.
That wasn't the only problem. Scottsville's fire hydrants which had not been working for the first fires, were not working for this year's fires either.Firemen had to lay hose 60 yards across the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad tracks to the James River for water, and then got two pumper trucks stuck in the riverbank mud.
More than 100 firemen from as far away as Charlottesville eventually showed up to fight the blaze. A service station and three homes nearby were snorched but not seriously damaged.
Denby, a 61-year-old retired fire control technician in the U.S. Navy, said the flour mill building and its contents were insured for about $80,000, "but we couldn't replace it all for twice that. Those wree heart-of-pine beams in that building, each more than a foot in diameter. There hasn't been timber like that around for more than 50 years."
He would have had more insurance on the building, Denby said, "but after the other fires the rates just went through the ceiling. We just couldn't afford any more."
In the wake of all the fires there is an undercurrent of dread in Scottsville and constant rumors (apparently unfounded) of notes pinned to buildings in town saying, "You're next."
As they quaff their beer in the Dew Drop Inn. some local residents even talk darkly of some sort of curse on the town.
"Every building that's knocked off hurts the economy of the town," said Scottsville Mayor Raymon Thacker, who owns the local funeral home. "And we've never made it back yet from the '72 flood."
Town Councilman Robert J. Walls said the Albermarle County Sheriff's Office has give lie detector tests about the fires of dozens of people with no result.
"So far we've been lucky in a way," Walls said. "Nobody's been hurt. But what happens when this fellow runs out of empty buildings?"