ELIZABETHTON — The cause of the fire on Monday afternoon that destroyed the home of Billy Harding at 123 Zeb Grindstaff Road has not been determined, but Carter County Sheriff Chris Mathes said the fire was not caused by a methamphetamine laboratory explosion as once suspected.
Because the firefighters reported two explosions in the kitchen area of the home and because of the intensity of the fire, firefighters had initially said there was a possibility of a meth lab.
"We found no evidence of methamphetamine," Mathes said Wednesday. "We do think it was a chemical explosion."
His arson investigator will be working with fire investigators from the insurance company to determine the cause of the fire. Mathes said he has also requested the assistance of Don Cogan of the state fire marshal's office.
Mathes' statements that it was not caused by methamphetamine was about the only good news home owner Billy Harding, 52, has had recently.
"I want to find the cause of the fire. I have never seen meth and I don't do drugs. I sure wouldn't risk the home I worked so hard for all my life," Harding said. "I hope the community understands that."
Harding said he did not know what caused the explosion, but he had his lawn mower, a four-wheeler, a gas grill and a water heater in the location where the explosion was reported. He said the electrical box is also in that location.
"This is the roughest thing I ever went through in my life," Harding said. The fire not only left him without a home, but also his wife and two grandsons, aged 4 and 6, who have lived with them all of their lives.
They have been staying in a motel provided by the American Red Cross since the fire, but Harding said they will have to find another place after Wednesday.
"I don't know where we will go," Harding said.
The only insurance on the home is enough to cover the loan, but will not cover the contents.
Friends have established the Harding Relief Fund at Northeast Community Credit Union.