Pattern of fires

Cody Fiddie appears to be fine after he jumped from the second floor of this house on Sires Street Tuesday to escape a fire that left another house occupant with serious burns.

A suspicious house fire in downtown Charleston's Elliottborough neighborhood left one man with serious burns and forced other people to jump from a second-floor window Tuesday morning, authorities and neighbors said.

Authorities said the fire fits the same description as others on the peninsula for at least 4 to 5 years.

Tuesday's blaze left most of the home at 21 Sires St. with significant fire and smoke damage. It also badly scorched the side of the house next door. Battalion Chief Richard Williams arrived after firefighters were dispatched at 3:28 a.m. to see flames shooting from two stories.

"The front half of the house was fully involved," Williams said.

Firefighters went inside to search the house but the residents already had escaped, he said. Crews then spent about 10 minutes bringing the flames under control. Two firefighters from the Coming Street station suffered minor injuries while attacking the blaze.

Battalion Chief Raymond Lloyd said the fire started on a downstairs porch next to some upholstered furniture. Though the cause remained under investigation, the incident shared several traits with other suspicious fires downtown.

"Basically, it has the same type of MO that we've been having at least for four to five years," Lloyd said.

Damage to the houses totaled $500,000, fire officials said.

Lloyd said last month that the Fire Department is looking into all of the fires on the peninsula with suspicious origins. "All of them seem to be unlocked or open porches that have furniture or debris up on them," he said at the time.

The most recent fires that fit the pattern occurred at 22 Orrs Court on June 25, at 177 Fishburne St. on May 31 and at Carondolet Street and Congress Street on May 20.

The Orrs Court fire began on the front porch of a vacant home and left heavy damage. The fire on Carondolet Street also started on the front porch and heavily damaged a nearby vacant house. The porch fire on Fishburne Street burned down an unoccupied home.

There were at least three similar fires in July 2007, on Fishburne, Morris and St. Philip streets, and at least 10 during the spring and summer of 2005.

The man injured on Tuesday had been downstairs and ran through flames on the porch, Lloyd said.

A police report said that Ryan Courtney, 20, suffered severe burns on the soles of his feet, along with blistering burns on his back, arms and legs. Courtney was taken by helicopter to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, where he was listed in serious condition, said Beth Frits, communications director for the burn center.

A police report said that a woman, also 20, broke her left foot while jumping from upstairs, while two other men escaped uninjured.

Lloyd described injuries to two firefighters: One lost his footing on a ladder and fell about 8 feet onto his side, and another sprained his ankle when he stepped through a damaged portion of the porch.

Residents also fled 19 Sires St., the home damaged next door, though it appeared they would be able to return.

Mary R. Smith had been asleep there when neighbors woke her. At first, Smith said, she thought she was dreaming. After registering some crackling noise in the background, it didn't take long for the retired public school teacher to realize it was no dream; flames were swallowing the house next door and licking an outside wall of her own home.

"The fire, it was blazing like an inferno," she said.

A couple hours later she surveyed the damage that blackened one side of her pea-green home, which she had renovated a year ago. Flames burst through an upstairs window into the apartment where two college-age men live, damaging a couch and some electronic keyboards.

Reach Noah Haglund at nhaglund@postandcourier.com or 937-5550.