Delay of Vanderhorst fire call could prove costly

Cannon, Rutledge, St. Philip and Spring are all streets in downtown Charleston that have felt the burn of suspicious fires since 2003 more than three times. But now, five blocks outside of the "fire zone," another street is coming into focus as possibly the next stop for an arson investigation.

"It's similar to some of the other fires," says Charleston City Fire Department PIO Mark Ruppel. "But it's not been linked to the suspicious fires as of yet."

Ruppel says the arson task force is running through evidence picked up from 54 Vanderhorst Street early Sunday morning to either dismiss or link the fire to at least 55 suspicious fires across the peninsula.

The similarities between the fire on Vanderhorst and the suspicious fires start with the location of where the fire was set. The flames sprang up in a recycling bin feet in front of a stairwell. The building is full of college students and young adults matching another trend.

And the fire swallowed up a recycling bin with bottles and trash in it. A fire source on porches has been noted in at least 37 of the downtown fires to this point.

The differences between the fire on Vanderhorst and the suspicious fires is the fact the building is made of concrete blocks and not wood like a majority of the other cases.

The fire burned at the feet away from the front stairwell and not the back stairway of the house where some of the documented fires began.

Maybe the most telling, the four story buildings location in reference to the well documented arson zone. Vanderhorst is at least five blocks away from the Crosstown epicenter.

"The past fires are important and they're something that we reference," says Ruppel. "However, the most current fires are where we have the newest evidence, the newest witnesses the most up to date information."

In the case of the Vanderhorst fire, Ruppel and the arson task force say it's challenging because it was called in well after the fire was put out.

"That fire occurred at approximately 4 a.m. on Sunday morning," says Ruppel. "Unfortunately we weren't notified until noon on Sunday. That's a pretty long eight hour lapse where a crime scene sat unattended."

And Ruppel says that should be a wake up call for those that find themselves in similar situations down the road.

"If there's a fire you should call the Fire Department immediately," says Ruppel.

If you have any information on the downtown fires,  please call the Charleston Fire Department at 843-577-7434.

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