COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A 37-year-old woman charged investigators say started a fire that displaced 12 families was granted $15k surety bond in court Monday morning.
Ernestine Simpson was charged with arson after investigators said she and her live-in boyfriend and a second person got into an argument early Saturday morning. Deputies believe Simpson set a fire at a Lake Shore Village apartment building that left 30 people without a place to live.
Investigators are still trying to figure out how the fire started, but Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins called the fire suspicious. "The fire moved pretty quickly, so we think some kind of accelerant was used," said Jenkins.
Crews were dispatched to a Lake Shore Village apartment building around 12:10am Saturday on a report of a fire and were on scene for three to four hours. "It was just horrific, it really was," said Laura Clark, who awoke Friday night to find smoke, flames and shouts all around her apartment.
Jenkins said a total of 12 apartments received fire and/or smoke damage. A portion of the building's roof was burned as well. He estimated damages in the amount of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"There's a lot of people in there, and somebody could have died -- over 30 people could have died," said Clark. "Luckily nobody was hurt."
Authorities say the 30 people that lived in the building would have been homeless if not for emergency assistance from the Red Cross.
"We hope that when we come we're at least offering some kind of hope," said Red Cross volunteer Giney Parish-Loy. "We give them a comfort kit when they leave because little things like a toothbrush, something to comb your hair with are big things when everything is gone."
"It was wonderful," said Clark. "It's nice knowing an organization is prepared and willing to sacrifice their time to people that were literally in need."
"When you've been through a trauma like a fire, what you need is someone to put their arms around you and say 'you're alive, everything is going to get better,'" said Parish-Loy.
Simpson remains in custody at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center.