‘No reason to think’ latest blaze suspicious

A pile of burned wood sits outside a house at 364 Ashley Ave., which is across from Allan Park in downtown Charleston, after a blaze gutted the home early Tuesday.

Though it shares some similarities with the spate of arson fires over the past decade, a blaze that gutted a downtown Charleston home early Tuesday likely was not intentionally set, according to a city spokesman.

Flames started inside the occupied two-story house at 364 Ashley Ave., leading investigators to think arson wasn’t a factor. Officials cautioned, however, that the initial findings were based on interviews with the home’s five residents and were not final.

“There’s no reason to think it’s suspicious,” said Mark Ruppel, spokesman for the Charleston Fire Department. “The fire started inside, not outside.”

The three-bedroom, 1,570-square-foot structure was built in 1915, according to Charleston County property records.

Damage appeared most extensive at the back of the house, where a porch overlooks a small yard. Flames, which were first reported about 1:20 a.m. after smoke awakened an occupant, scorched the exterior wall.

A relative, who declined to give his name, said the five people living at the Ashley Avenue house were members of the family that owns the residence. He added that their house was insured.

All the occupants were sleeping when the fire broke out, but they evacuated “just in time,” the man said.

None of them were hurt, but a firefighter who was doing “overhaul” work, or ripping out interior ceilings and walls to root out lingering fire, suffered a minor injury when debris fell on him.

Ruppel said the firefighter complained of back pain and was taken to Medical University Hospital. He was released before daybreak.

The home, which is about six blocks north of the Crosstown expressway and across the street from Allan Park, was declared uninhabitable. Neighboring houses were not damaged.

The American Red Cross provided the residents with temporary housing and financial assistance, according to Nancy Olson, a spokeswoman for the Lowcountry chapter.

The 85 suspicious fires since 2002 have involved homes near the Crosstown, and have typically started around porches during the early morning hours.

Andrew Knapp is editor of the quick response team, which covers crime, courts and breaking news. He previously worked as a reporter and copy editor at Florida Today, Newsday and Bangor (Maine) Daily News. He enjoys golf, weather and fatherhood.