10 News Investigates: Here’s why the 2022 Vinton fire is ‘undetermined’

10 News combed through a 36-page report to learn why we may never know the cause

VINTON, Va. – 10 News is following up on a hot topic and is digging for more details about the fire that destroyed a music store in downtown Vinton.

10 News requested a copy of the Fire Marshal’s report and teams have combed through all 36 pages.

We read through the report and learned the cause of the fire is considered “undetermined” because the Fire Marshal said the building had extensive fire damage to both the first and second floor and was later demolished due to safety reasons.

10 News spoke with the Roanoke County Fire Marshal to explain why we may never know the cause.

Cell phone video shows a raging fire, destroying a beloved music store in Vinton in July last year.

“Oh gosh, it was horrifying,” Mark Frye, owner of Creative Occasions, said.

Frye owns the shop that’s a few doors down from where the fire occurred.

“That could have been me,” Frye said.

For nine months, the area sat idle with barricades, showing “are you in” signs. You can see still the damage from the fire and bricks are nearly falling off the roof of the Edward Jones building.

“In this case, with the amount of damage, we were hampered significantly, the roof had collapsed,” Roanoke County Fire Marshal Brian Simmons said.

Simmons explained what firefighters were doing at the time of the fire.

“There was a lot of fire damage that occurred,” Simmons said.

10 News obtained the Fire Marshal’s report, which includes statements from witnesses and from people who lived in the upstairs apartments and said the fire was coming out the front windows.

There are also statements from the owners of D. R. Music Store, Donald and Rhonda Wray.

The report shows Rhonda locked the store at 5:30 and did not notice any burning or smell of smoke.

Firefighters believe the fire started on the first floor, but they can’t tell where.

“The first floor was a rather large floor, and we couldn’t narrow it down to a specific point of origin. That would be a point of ignition source and material ignited,” Simmons said.

The report states there were several spots firefighters evaluated, which include electric receptacles, fluorescent lights, a coffee maker and a hotdog warmer.

But firefighters ruled those out.

Firefighters say in the report, the possibility of a gas leak could not be ruled out.

However, there was no leak noted.

“When we go through, if we can’t pinpoint a specific ignition source, then we have to label the fire as undetermined. It doesn’t mean we don’t know a lot about what occurred,” Simmons said.

On July 5, the report states that firefighters were looking for cameras that may have recorded images of where the fire started. The only spot was inside HomeTrust Bank across the street.

After speaking with the branch manager, they learned she’s the daughter of the music store owners.

The manager couldn’t allow firefighters to view security footage, so she gave them the email of the security company in charge of the video.

Once getting access to the security video, they saw on July 2, 2022, at 1:51 am, the first sign of fire is at the front entrance inside the D.R. Music store.

Five minutes later, around 1:56 am, the fire spread to the whole first floor.

In the report, firefighters noticed from July 1 at 8:28 p.m. to about 1:50 am July 2, the footage doesn’t skip.

However, in the report, firefighters say at about 1:50 a.m. to 1:51 a.m. on July 2 the video pauses, and then it starts again until 1:53 a.m.

From 1:53 a.m. to about 1:56 a.m., firefighters said the footage pauses again.

Firefighters said they spoke with the information security officer and they stated pauses were to be expected when motion is not detected since the cameras are motion activated.

Less than a week later, on July 6, fire investigators spoke with Donald and Rhonda at the Vinton Municipal Building.

They learned, Donald Wray is the fire chief of the Shady Grove Fire Department and his wife Rhonda is the treasurer.

They founded the department and both are fire and rescue trained.

“I didn’t know that particular information during the investigation, but I think some of the firefighters may have known Mr. Wray,” Simmons said.

When asked if the Wrays intentionally set the fire they said quote, “We did not set the fire or even know who did. That store was our life. We would like to rebuild, but I just don’t see that happening.”

“When you’re investigating a fire of this magnitude and the amount of damage that occurred, you’re looking at all possible scenarios and ignition sources,” Simmons said.

The report states firefighters also got a tip that an 82-year-old witness saw Mr. Wray the night before the fire loading equipment into a white van.

Firefighters said nothing came of that.

“Yes, that information came in, but nothing was substantiated,” Simmons said.

Business owners Donald and Rhonda Ray, their daughter and HomeTrust Bank have not been accused of, or implicated in, any misconduct and have not been charged with any crime in connection with the fire or incidents occurrences leading up to the fire or the subsequent investigation.

About the Author

Duke Carter returned to 10 News in January 2022.