The state fire marshal is investigating a suspected arson at a Palmetto business Friday morning.
The fire, which broke out around 7 a.m. in a storage building used by Auto Dealer Solutions, 405 Eighth Ave. W., unleashed a fierce trail of black smoke into the sky over the Manatee River.
North River Fire District responded, taming the flames of the older building that was formerly a church but most recently had contained car parts like tires and seats. The fire also destroyed a nearby boat and trailer.
According to North River Fire Inspector Robert Tollise, it could have been arson. Someone apparently had smashed open the back door of Auto Dealer Solutions, and business owner and building tenant Ben Shives said files in the office had been rifled through.
Shives said he is unsure of what, if anything, was stolen.
Employees said the business has had problems with break-ins in the past. About two years ago, someone broke into the showroom and stole a dirt bike, an employee said.
The state fire marshal will continue the investigation.
Palmetto Police Chief Scott Tyler released a surveillance video image of a person of interest that afternoon, but a description of the person is unclear.