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'Suspicious' Fires Raise Concerns For Booker Washington Heights Residents

The Columbia Fire Department has ruled out several reasons why homes in the Booker Washington Heights neighborhood have caught fire in the past two months. Now they are investigating possible arson.

Columbia, SC (WLTX) - The Columbia Fire Chief says they are still investigating a number of house fires in the Booker Washington Heights neighborhood in the past two months.

"I'm concerned about the fires that have been happening in the neighborhood," says Chief Aubrey Jenkins. "Very concerned."

Chief Jenkins spoke to a room full of concerned residents of the Booker Washington Heights community on Thursday night, during their regularly scheduled meeting, about the four fires.

"We have not ruled the fire the other night as arson yet," says Jenkins.

On monday night 68-year-old Francena Willingham was in her home when it caught on fire on Carver Street. Her family explained that she died of a heart attack before the fire started. Chief Jenkins says they are investigating the cause.

"There's no apparent obvious reason for it to start that we can detect at this time," says Jenkins. "So we are still investigating."

The other three fires that occurred on Beaumont Street, which were in an abandoned home, a garage and a house where the owner wasn't home, have all been ruled suspicious. That concerned residents.

"I'm just hoping that, you know, we don't have an arsonist in the community that's going around and burning homes down," says Kevin Speaks. "I'm concerned with the abandoned houses in the area, hoping that nothing like this happens again."

The neighborhood association president says she asked the department to come in to calm some of her neighbors fears.

"They're nervous when they hear a car drive by, they're getting up and checking between the blinds at night when they hear a noise outside, because these fires are starting on the outside of the houses," says Regina Williams. "So, they are being set. I had to bring them in to calm us down."

Residents were urged to be vigilant and report anything suspicious to law enforcement and Crime Stoppers at 1-888-CRIMESC.

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