City list omits 2 possible arsons

At 5:45 a.m. on June 30, 2004, someone climbed the metal stairs at 34 Morris St. and started a fire next to a car battery.

Despite similarities to other fires in the neighborhood, this incident wasn't included in a roster of suspicious fires the city released during the summer.

Members of the city's arson task force on Tuesday had no immediate explanations why this fire and another at 28 Carolina St. in 2008 weren't on their roster, or whether they were in fact connected to a serial arsonist.

"We know there are a large number of arsons," said Charleston police Capt. Naomi Broughton, adding that the task force is less concerned with tallies than other aspects of their search for the arsonist.

The city's list included 56 fires thought to be linked to an arsonist or group of fire-setters. But a recent Post and Courier analysis of police and fire reports identified more than 80 -- many more than authorities had acknowledged.

After the newspaper's report, readers called with details about additional fires, bringing the unofficial total to 85.

The fire at 28 Carolina St. broke out at 2:22 a.m. Jan. 20, 2008, when someone stuck rolled-up paper between a foundation and porch and set it on fire, according to a fire department incident report.

The 34 Morris St. fire was notable because of what happened a year later. Shortly before 6 a.m. July 17, 2005, someone placed a mattress against a gas meter and set it on fire. The second fire was included in the city's inventory.

It wasn't the only time a home in the Crosstown arson zone was targeted more than once. At least eight homes have been torched at least two times, the newspaper's analysis showed.

Dorothy Knuppel had a dental office at 34 Morris St. at the time and felt that the city was downplaying the extent of the fires in her neighborhood, which she said endangered residents. "When you don't know that these things are happening, you have no reason to be on guard."

The newspaper's list does not include a recent fire at 50 Montagu St., which was south of the neighborhoods hit hardest by the arsonist. Broughton said the Montagu case is active. She declined to comment on whether investigators think it's linked to the Crosstown-area fires.