Fake firefighter arrested for starting fire at library

The 18-year-old told officials that he set the fire at the library so he could help put it out

Hernando Today

BROOKSVILLE, Fla. — Two weeks after a fire ripped through a screened porch at the East Hernando Library Branch, the Hernando County Sheriff's Office has made an arrest in the case.

Joseph Michael Brannen, 18, was booked at the jail on charges of second degree arson around 5 p.m. Friday. Brannen, of 7032 Windmere Road, is being held on no bond.

The fire at 6457 Windmere Road was reported just past 2 a.m. on July 6. The fire started in a screened-porch reading area, according to Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Carroll, and wicker furniture was found piled up against the door. The fire was deemed "suspicious," and is being investigated by the sheriff's office and state fire marshal.

Carroll said firefighters recognized Brannen from being on-scene that night, wearing "fire equipment."

On Friday, Cristi Charlow, risk management coordinator for Hernando County, said the blaze is expected to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Charlow said the hefty price tag will be covered by the county's insurance, which has a reserve set at $500,000.

"It doesn't mean we will or won't reach it," Charlow said.

Right now, a company called Servpro is working to restore library inventory and furniture spared from the blaze. Charlow estimates Servpro's bill will cost between $200,000 and $225,000.

"It is expensive but they are very, very particular," Charlow said, explaining the company has assigned numerous staff members to wipe down damaged books, videos, DVD and CDs, vacuum, clean and restore the items.

"Almost every page smells brand new," Charlow said, adding library board members will have a chance to inspect - and sniff - the materials during a Tuesday meeting.

Charlow said the library had 18,000 items in the library at the time of the fire. The fire destroyed a section of new books and magazines, and the rest of the collection was damaged by water and smoke.

After Servpro completes its work, the county will be able to bid out the work to repair the structural damage and carpet to a general contractor. Charlow explained the county is waiting for Servpro to finish so dust from the construction does not damage the books further.

Charlow estimated the work could be completed within weeks, but up to six months.

Library patrons on the east side of Hernando County can renew materials by phone at (352) 754-4043 or online at http://hernandocountylibrary.us. The Hernando County Tourism Bureau's East Visitor Information Center is accepting returns while the east branch is closed. The center is located in the Carriage Hills Plaza at 31085 Cortez Blvd. in Brooksville, and is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Items can be returned at other Hernando County branches. The closest is 238 Howell Ave. in Brooksville. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays.

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