Federal Officials Join Abortion Clinic Fire Probe

Published January 2, 2012 10:18PM (EST)

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — Federal investigators plan to join the investigation of a suspicious fire at a Florida Panhandle abortion clinic that has been the site of deadly violence in the past, officials said Monday.

The early Sunday fire at American Family Planning in Pensacola largely destroyed the two-story building, said Lt. Kevin Theodore of the state fire marshal's office. No one was injured.

The fire began in dry vegetation around the outside of the building, which is surrounded by oak trees. The blaze burned underneath the building, up its sides and into its attic, collapsing the second floor ceiling, Theodore said.

What sparked the blaze remains unknown. The clinic's alarm company alerted authorities to the fire, which had been concealed from view by heavy fog.

"It burned for a prolonged period of time," Theodore said. "It was a very foggy night and the smoke blended in well with the fog."

Pensacola Fire Department Battalion Chief Steve Peake told the Pensacola News Journal that the clinic was engulfed in flames by the time firefighters arrived just after 1 a.m. Sunday.

The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives planned to join state and local investigators Tuesday, Theodore said.

So far, there are no suspects. "We have not ruled out anything at this time," Theodore said.

The clinic, formerly known as The Ladies Center and as Community Healthcare, was bombed in 1984. In 1994, a doctor and a volunteer who escorted patients were shot to death as they arrived. The gunman, Paul Hill, was executed in 2003.

Theodore said the clinic had not reported any threats or criminal activity recently. The clinic pays for off-duty Pensacola police officers to provide security.

"In talking with the owner, she said nothing has been said to her in a threatening way in a long period of time," Theodore said.

By Salon Staff

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