Three more suspicious fires being investigated

Jan. 22, 2014 @ 08:08 AM

The N.C. Forest Service is investigating three suspicious grass fires that started within a mile in the Baton community Monday just minutes apart.

The first fire was reported at 4:17 p.m., said

About 4:15 p.m. Kevin Willis was inside his friend's house at 5000 McCall Town Road when he heard a commotion outside, looked out and saw a decorative bush at the corner of the property was ablaze.

"I came out and got a hose to try and put the fire out," Willis said.

Audrianna Hodge, who lives across the street, also saw the flames. She was helping her boyfriend replace a battery in a pickup truck.

"We were in the garage when I saw flames shot straight up into the air," she said.

A woman driving by also saw the burning bush and called 911. Hodge captured the action on video from her cellphone while neighbors grabbed a garden hose and tried to douse the fire. They also took shovels and brooms to beat down the flames.

Within minutes North Catawba Fire and Rescue also got calls about a grass fire to the north on McCall Town Road and another on Baton School Road near Baton Elementary.

Hodge recalls seeing a gold four-door sedan at the site of the first fire. She said she saw someone lean their head out the car window and then saw flames. The car then left the scene, Hodge said.

"It all happened quickly," Hodge said.

Rusty Dellinger, the Caldwell County ranger for the N.C. Forest Service, said he thinks the three fires are connected. "We can't say they were intentionally set, but they were caused by humans and are suspicious in nature."

Dellinger thinks that the quick reaction of residents prevented a much larger problem.

"If not for the local folks and the fire department, with the dry, windy conditions and grass, it could have spread to that house," Dellinger said.

The Monday fires Monday are the second series of possible arson fires in Caldwell County, but the grass fires are not suspected to being connected to three fires that were set within a half-mile of each other in the downtown Lenoir area. Two of the Lenoir fires were set on Nov. 17 within minutes of each other -- at a house on the corner of Willow Street and College Avenue that was being remodeled for use as a bed and breakfast, and at A New Dimension substance abuse and counseling center on Main Street. On Dec. 29, a fire started in a garage at a home on College Avenue that is in between the sites of the Nov. 17 fires.