Fires join list of suspicious blazes

Recent house fires on the west side of the Charleston peninsula, including one Wednesday, resemble a series of possible arson blazes that have puzzled investigators for years.

The latest fire started on a front porch at 22 Orr's Court, a narrow residential street on the east side of Burke High School, and left heavy damage to a vacant home with no power. Charleston firefighters responded at 3:02 a.m. Wednesday and had the flames under control within about five minutes, Battalion Chief Raymond Lloyd said. Though the cause was under investigation, the fire did not appear to be an accident.

"We're seriously looking into all fires that have suspicious origins on the outside of homes in that area," Lloyd said. "All of them seem to be unlocked or open porches that have furniture or debris up on them."

Fire investigators have been trying to solve numerous early-morning fires at downtown homes that stretch back about five years, Lloyd said. There were at least three such fires in July 2007 — on Fishburne, Morris and St. Philip streets — and at least 10 during the spring and summer of 2005.

Two fires last month followed a similar pattern.

On May 20, a fire started on the front porch and heavily damaged a vacant house with no power at Carondolet Court at Congress Street. On May 31, a porch fire burned down an unoccupied home at 177 Fishburne St.

All remain under investigation.

Some of the fires in past years happened farther down the peninsula, in neighborhoods with high concentrations of college students. After firefighters worked with the College of Charleston to encourage students not to leave furniture or debris out on porches, the incidents decreased.

Lloyd said the Fire Department continues to pursue the cases.

"We haven't given up on them," he said. "Even though we've run cold on leads, we still have those in our mind."