FARMINGTON — A Franklin County grand jury indicted a Phillips man this week on felony charges of arson and conspiracy to commit arson in the 2017 fire at Falls General Store on Croswell Road in Farmington.

Kurt Searles Franklin County Detention Center photo

Kurt D. Searles, 35, was charged Thursday with setting the blaze at his father’s store April 4, 2017, with the intent to enable a person to collect insurance, according to the indictment. The conspiracy charge accuses Searles of agreeing with one or more people to commit the crime.

An indictment means a jury decided there is enough evidence to move the case to trial.

Searles was initially arrested in July 1, 2022, after a five-year investigation. He denied having anything to do with the fire. He was released the next day on $5,000 cash bail, according to a corrections officer at the Franklin County jail.

The Farmington Fire Rescue Department responded to a report of fire at the two-story building housing the store and an apartment above it at 176 Croswell St. Fire Chief Terry Bell requested the Office of the State Fire Marshal investigate the origin and cause.

Firefighters observed a fire in the basement and the right sidewall of the store. Doors were all locked, according to state Fire Investigator Jeremy Damren’s probable cause affidavit filed in a Farmington court for an arrest warrant.


Upon examination, the origin of the blaze was the basement ceiling, according to state Fire Investigator Stewart Jacobs.

Searles is the son of the store’s then-owner, Daniel Searles, who left for a vacation cruise March 28, 2017, along with his girlfriend, Lori Berry. They were not home when the fire started.

Farmington Fire Rescue chiefs and state fire investigators search for the cause of a fire April 4, 2017, that heavily damaged Falls General Store at Croswell Road in Farmington. Kurt Searles of Phillips, the previous owner’s son, was indicted by a Franklin County grand jury Thursday on charges of arson and conspiracy to commit arson. Sun Journal file photo

Hanover Insurance paid Daniel Searles and Berry a total of $345,000 for the loss, Damren wrote.

Dan Searles and Berry bought the store for $225,000 and put a $50,000 down payment on it in 2014, according to a court document.

Prior to the fire, the building was put up for sale, according to Damren.

The store has since been demolished and debris removed.


In April 2017, state Fire Investigator Ken MacMaster interviewed Kurt Searles, who told MacMaster that he had purchased flea bombs just prior to the fire and brought them to his father’s apartment above the store. He arrived at the apartment around 8:30 p.m. on April 4 and set six or seven flea bombs off. While activating the bombs, some of the compound got in his eyes, according to the affidavit.

He had been given a key to the store and entered through the bakery door, which was locked, and told investigators he left 30 minutes later.

In May 2017, Fire Investigator Jacobs met with Oil and Solid Fuel Board Inspector Bruce Bristow in reference to Bristow’s inspection of the scene. Bristow indicated that the LP gas line had been manipulated and intentionally severed.

Based on Bristow’s information, Jacobs determined that about 9 inches of hose line was missing, along with the quick connect coupling. He also determined the piece of metal recovered from the basement floor was not the right type of metal or configuration for that particular gas connector.

Leaking gas contributed to the fire, according to the affidavit. The digital recording for the security camera was missing from the office of the store. They also noted there were very few personal items in the second-floor apartment, according to investigators.

On June 27, 2018, Damren reviewed the contents of Kurt Searles’ cellphone and discovered Searles had searched for tracer incendiary ammunition. The bullets are projectiles with a pyrotechnic charge in their base, Damren wrote. He also saw a text message at 12:56 a.m. April 5, 2017, to someone named Katya in Searles’ phone. The message read “They got it out,” and “one whole wall burned.”

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