By GREG BLUESTEIN, Associated Press
ROSWELL, Ga. (AP) — An explosion on Monday rocked the suburban Atlanta home of a man known for his fight to keep chickens on his property, and emergency officials say a body was found inside.
The house belonged to Andrew Wordes, who was known as the "Chicken Man" for his attempts to turn his Roswell house into a makeshift farm. He told a local reporter to warn the marshals who were trying to evict him to back off. Moments later, fire officials say someone poured gasoline in the house and set it on fire.
Firefighters found a body inside the house that was in foreclosure, but had not identified it by late Monday. The body was taken to the Fulton County medical examiner, and officials there said it could take days to identify the body.
Wordes, 53, earned notoriety for his long fight with the city over the right to have livestock on his property. Along the way, he alienated neighbors but earned the support of the city's mayor and others who read about him online. He even convinced a former governor to represent him in court.
The chickens were long gone by Monday, but he was still fighting eviction. A bank foreclosed on his house after he apparently stopped paying his mortgage while in jail. Court records show he filed for bankruptcy in July of 2011, and neighbors say he was asking the courts to block the eviction.
Neighbors who gathered near his home on Monday laughed as they recalled some of his antics, like naming a stubborn chicken who survived a gunshot wound "Lucky" and the time he spelled "FEMA PLEASE HELP" on his roof after a flood damaged his basement. But some said they thought he'd become overzealous in his fight against authority.
"He was a nice guy, but he was fighting a fight that really didn't exist," said John Cherok, a neighbor. "Sometimes you can go too far, and Andy did."
Wordes lived in the two-story home on a quiet street for about 13 years and started raising poultry in 2005. At first he had only a few chickens, and most neighbors didn't seem to mind. But the complaints started pouring in after he got dozens more chickens, roosters that crowed day and night and then pigs, goats and dogs.
"And that's when we noticed the coyote population exploded," said Cherok. "It was like a buffet over there. It just spiraled out of control."
The city cited him for raising livestock in 2009, and Wordes made a splash on the Internet. Former Gov. Roy Barnes decided to represent him in his fight with Roswell, and his supporters wore yellow T-shirts and "I Love Chickens" buttons to a court hearing. A judge eventually dismissed the case against him but a few months later Roswell lawmakers approved new rules banning roosters and restricting the number of chickens residents can keep.
Many of Wordes' remaining chickens died mysteriously last year. He started other fights, including an effort to get reimbursed for flood damage and arguing with the city after he was cited for improperly grading his property. He was jailed for three months last year for violating probation after pleading guilty to the grading violation, and shortly after he was released he was met with an eviction notice.
"He needed something to fight," said Indja Cornwell, a neighbor. "He was distraught over something and he chose this battle for some reason."
Greg Foy, another neighbor, said Wordes was the kind of guy who would help fix your car or otherwise lend a hand.
"But he got in a fight with ghosts and goblins," he said. "And the next thing you know, it blossomed into an Armageddon against the government."
That led to Monday's confrontation. Fulton County marshals told Wordes they were evicting him three weeks ago, and they arrived early Monday morning and tried to lead him out of the home. During a two-hour standoff, Wordes called WSB-TV reporter Mike Petchenik, who was outside the residence, and told him to tell the marshals to get off the property.
"What's going on?" he told Petchenik. "I just can't tell you. It ain't pretty, though."
Fire officials say that's when they believe someone poured gasoline in the house and lit it on fire.
Looking back, Cherok said, it seemed as if Wordes knew the day would be a fateful one.
"Today he told me, 'Today is the day,'" said Cherok. "I figured he meant the marshals were coming."
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