An eight-month investigation into a fire that destroyed the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in California last year resulted in the arrest Thursday of a Great Mills man.
Vernon Earl Grinder, 30, was charged with arson in connection with the Dec. 30 blaze that gutted VFW Post 2632 and required 75 firefighters from nine companies to extinguish, according to a statement by the state fire marshal.
The early morning fire swept through the 150-by-75-foot building on Three Notch Road, causing $500,000 in damage and tying up traffic in St. Mary's County for nearly two hours. A joint investigation was launched by the state fire marshal, Maryland State Police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the St. Mary's County sheriff's office.
Grinder was arrested at his Point Lookout Road apartment Thursday evening and was taken to the St. Mary's County Detention Center, where he is being held on $50,000 bond.
The motive behind the fire is undetermined at this time, said Allen Gosnell, spokesman for the state fire marshal.
Robert Oliver, a 40-year VFW member who helped build the post that burned down, said he hopes Grinder's arrest brings answers to questions that have stumped the group's 449 members. Veterans are now focused on raising the money and resolving insurance issues to get their meeting place rebuilt. Grinder was not listed on the post's roster, Oliver said.
"[The VFW building] was a part of my life that was taken out," said Oliver, now post commander. Since the fire, the group has met at the Fleet Reserve Association in Lexington Park. "I'm glad they made an arrest. I just want to know why anyone would want to burn the VFW post."
Gosnell said the investigation continues and officers are looking at the possibility that others were involved. People who want to make a contribution to the rebuilding of VFW Post 2632 can do so at the First National Bank of St. Mary's, where the group has an account.