Victims recall fire that destroyed downtown home a year ago

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The deadliest hours for house fires are midnight to 5 a.m. a time when you are fast asleep.

A year ago, around 3:30 a.m., four people faced the terrifying challenge of escaping a raging house fire.  Investigators believe it was the work of a serial arsonist in downtown Charleston.

James Grant smelled smoke that early morning and yelled to his wife Victoria to get out.

"And that's when the guy across the street said,'Man your house is on fire' and he carried me across the street," Grant said.

There wasn't much left of the St. Philip Street apartment the Grants called home for almost five years.

"I just hope they catch whoever is doing this. We could've been gone," Victoria Grant said.
Sounds of fire tones and dispatch sent a ripple of nervous curiosity in the neighborhoods near the Crosstown. With 57 suspicious fires over the past nine years, people wonder when and where it could happen again.

"You never know who's bumping around the next corner, who might be targeting my property or my neighbor's property," Reid Patrick said.

Most of the fires happened in the early morning hours, many on porches and porch furniture.

The most recent fire was two months ago on Cannon Street, a street with five suspicious fires. Rutledge had six and St. Philip with five including last year's frightening fire on Sept. 26.

The Grants lived downstairs and two college students had just moved in upstairs. Matthew Stergar lived down the street, smelled smoke and ran to help.

"No smoke alarms were going off. No one ever knew. The two college kids had no idea this fire had been set," Stergar said."I was able to make it up the stairs and onto the landing and I was banging on the door and screamed inside. They were in their pajamas. They were asleep."

A former firefighter at the Ashley River Fire Department, Stergar knew the house was going up fast. He says his training kicked in to make sure everyone was out. After alerting the college students on the second floor, he came back for the Grants on the first level, carrying James Grant across the street.

Since that night, fires at six other houses have been added to a possible arson list. The arson task force is asking everyone in the target area to be on the lookout, and call 911 if you see something suspicious.

They also offer some safety tips for everyone no matter where you live. Determine two ways to get out of your home. Make a fire escape plan and practice it. Assign a meeting area such as the mailbox or across the street.

Test your smoke detectors to make sure they work and  never go back inside even for a pet.

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