Task force investigating downtown fires; $25k reward offered

Published: Jul. 28, 2011 at 9:25 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 28, 2011 at 7:45 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Mayor Joe Riley said a task force is investigating a number of downtown fires following an early Thursday morning fire that the mayor says could have been catastrophic.

The mayor, along with ATF, police and fire officials announced a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in a string of arsons which fire officials say were started at the homes' porches.

Officials said earlier this month that a fire at 96 Cannon St. on June 28 was intentional as was a fire on June 30 at 563 Rutledge Ave. Authorities say that the incidents have a similar pattern with most of them having been set between 3:30 and 5:30 a.m.

Police Chief Greg Mullen says cameras have been used in the area but have not been able to catch any suspects. According to Chief Mullen, patrols have been increased in the area where the fires started.

Investigators say the key element in solving the case will be people living in the area. City officials say they vow to catch the culprit who may be behind as many as 57 fires.

"We're going to catch you and we won't rest until we catch you. And if you try to do it again, we will catch you sooner, said Mayor Riley.

On Thursday, four people and a dog managed to escape a house fire that authorities say could have been intentionally set on fire. The fire was the fifth suspicious blaze in a month in Charleston and the 57th since 2003.

The fire started just before 4:30 a.m. at 54 Cannon Street. One man who was inside at the time says the fire started on the first floor front porch and quickly spread to the second floor. He says he awoke to someone yelling "Fire! Fire!"

Investigators have been looking into the recent fires whether they are related to 50 other suspicious fires in a half-mile area downtown during the past decade. Those fires had stopped between August 2009 and the fires earlier this month.

Agents with the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the State Law Enforcement Division met with local arson investigators Thursday morning.

In Thursday's fire, fire officials say a smoke alarm on the second floor and neighbors helped to get everyone out safely.

Residents saved a dog by tossing it from the second floor to people holding an outstretched quilt down below. The first and second floor porches, as well areas inside the home, have heavy fire damage. Fire officials are investigating the cause of the fire but say it is suspicious at this time.

If you have any information regarding the fires you are asked to call 1-800-92-ARSON or 911.

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