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Residents raise concerns about vacant buildings after string of unsolved fires

Updated: May. 28, 2021 at 11:44 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Residents in the Booker Washington Heights community are looking at their neighbors, or lack thereof, after a string of unsolved fires burned buildings over the last week.

PREVIOUS STORY | CPD investigating several fires in Booker-Washington Heights neighborhood

The Columbia Police Department and the Columbia Richland County Fire Department are investigating fires at vacant homes on the 3400 Block of Carver Street and the 2600 Block of High Circle.

A duplex on the 3400 Block of Beaumont Street also burned. Half of the building was occupied, but nobody was home.

There are no injuries from the fires.

Authorities have not yet determined if the fires are related or were set intentionally, but neighborhood association president Regina Williams said the proximity and timing of the fires could not be a coincidence.

She said vacant buildings in the community are “prey” for squatters and illegal activities.

“There’s no care for life. Someone could have been killed in that fire. It hurts. My seniors are scared. My young people are scared,” she said.

North Columbia resident Carlo Smith echoed her thoughts.

“Property owners [need to] check on their property, do more with their property than just leave them abandoned and sitting up. Because as long as they’re sitting up, somebody is going to burn them up or tear them up,” he said.

The estimated cost of the damage to the buildings is over $100,000.

Williams said she is hopeful the city will work with the neighborhood on revitalization, which includes tearing down the vacant properties.

High Circle resident Martha Thompson shared the view that the fire was intentionally set. Columbia authorities have not confirmed it was arson. However, Thompson had a clear message for the (potential) arsonist(s).

“The persons that’s doing this. They don’t know that whatever seed they sow, they shall reap it. Be it fire or any other harmful things to people in the community or in the world. Whatever you sow, the seeds that you sow, you shall reap it,” she said.

CPD and CRFD are looking for information on the fires. You can leave an anonymous tip with CrimeStoppers.

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