Friday fire investigated as possible arson

Sep. 03, 2013 @ 05:32 PM

A fire that gutted a three-story home on East Andrews Avenue on Friday evening may have been set intentionally, according to a Henderson police report released on Monday.

The report notes an investigation into arson and a domestic offense. The house, at 813 East Andrews Avenue, is the residence of James Merritt, according to the police report.

Henderson Fire Department crews had the fire out by 7:44 p.m. before any damage was done to adjacent structures, according to fire chief Danny Wilkerson. Wilkerson said only Merrit was displaced by the fire.

Wilkerson said he remained doubtful regarding the issue of arson, adding, “It is undetermined. We investigated it. He said his girlfriend started the fire.”

Wilkerson said that the fire posed difficulties for firefighters to put out because of a point of origin near a stairwell that then became an enclosed area of flame intensity.

“The fire originated at a back area of the house near a bathroom, and came up a stairwell,” Wilkerson said. “It was like a chimney effect, carrying it to the third floor. We stayed on the scene until 11:27.”

A police arrest report noted that officers jailed Merritt on charges of failing to appear in court for prior matters. Merritt received a bond set at $1,500 pending a court hearing Oct. 29.

Henderson police confirmed a criminal investigation is ongoing. Lt. Christopher Ball said the focus of the criminal probe would be subject to change pending a final determination by fire department officials as to the cause and origin of the fire.

Wilkerson said Merritt was released on bond and back at the scene before fire crews left.

“It was just the one individual living there,” Wilkerson said. “We called the American Red Cross to help him.”

Wilkerson said the home is registered as owned by Merritt. The structure sustained an estimated $67,527 damage, and content loss was estimated at about $2,000.

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.