Police, fire officials to study suspicious blazes

The aftermath of the fire that stuck Rutledge Ave in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Charleston police and firefighters have teamed up to investigate a recent flurry of downtown house fires that no one has said are connected but that some officials speculate could be the work of a serial arsonist.

About a dozen investigators will meet weekly to share the information they collect, Charleston Fire Marshal Mike Julazadeh said. The group later could bring in larger agencies, such as the State Law Enforcement Division, Julazadeh said.

"We'll be going over what we have now and what we know for these fires or for the next time around," he added.

The most recent fire, at 563 Rutledge Ave. early on June 30, brought the total to more than 50 questionable fires across the peninsula in recent years. The small porch fire burned some railings but left the main structure untouched.

A house at 247 Rutledge burned down the same day. A charred pile of lumber remains, and nearby houses show damage from where the flames leapt across property lines.

The past 10 days alone saw four fires, two confirmed intentional and two more under investigation, according to Julazadeh. The fires follow a pattern of beginning on or near porches in the dead of night, in homes with college-age residents inside.

Firefighters took to the streets downtown Tuesday and Wednesday, warning residents about possible dangers. Knocking on doors from Rutledge Avenue to Bogard Street, firefighters cautioned people about the hazards of leaving combustible objects outside their homes or on porches.

Charleston's arson streak began in 2002; the most recent wave, until this one, struck in 2009.