Newberry house fire ruled arson

As Rebecca Leese and her 4-year-old daughter were sleeping in their Newberry Street home during the early morning hours of May 7, someone set the house ablaze, according to city Fire Chief C. Dean Heinbach.

“The fire has been ruled intentionally set,” Heinbach said Tuesday morning.

Fortunately the mother and daughter safely escaped the inferno through a first-floor window after Leese was awakened by the sound of the fire crackling and wires arcing, investigators said. Leese’s husband, Abdul Ali, was not home when the fire was reported at 2750 Newberry St. just before 5 a..m.

“The fire originated outside at the rear of a breezeway that connected the garage to the house,” Heinbach said.

The home was a total loss, with damage set at $240,000, Heinbach said.

Ali and Lee owned the home and had insurance on the property.

It was just a year ago when the city’s Newberry neighborhood was hit by nearly a dozen arson fires that kept much of the community on edge for several weeks. No arrests have been made in any of the cases.

Heinbach said investigators do not at this point see “a link” between last week’s house fire and the arsons of last year, “but we are looking to see if there are some possible similarities.”

Heinbach encourages residents to keep outside lights on and to be vigilant, calling 911 if one sees any suspicious persons or vehicles in their neighborhood. Also, avoid storing combustible materials outside your home, he added.

An earlier fire that also occurred in the city during the early morning hours of May 7 has been ruled accidental, Heinbach said.

Spontaneous combustion of flammable rags sparked a fire that destroyed Thomas and Barbara Paulhamus’ workshop-garage just 10 feet from their home at 2899 S. Reach Road, Heinbach said.

This fire, which broke out about 1 a.m., caused an estimated $75,000 damage.

Heinbach said another fire last week, this one at a five-unit apartment building at 1209 Park Ave., also has been ruled accidental.

The fire, which broke out about 5 p.m. Wednesday, began in a rear bedroom in the first-floor apartment of David Eck and his fiancee Pamela Smith, Heinbach said. “The fire was electrical in nature,” he said, adding that damage to the building was about $75,000.