JOHNS ISLAND, S.C. (WCBD) – A fire that destroyed an under-construction apartment complex on Wednesday night is being investigated for possible arson.
The property owner, Stono Oaks Apartments LLC, is now offering a reward of up to $25,000 for information leading to an arrest of the individual(s) involved in the fire. Tips can be submitted to Crime Stoppers of the Lowcountry by calling 843-554-1111 or visiting www.5541111.com.
“Like it looked like an explosion so we know it was something big and structural,” said Antwoine Geddis who witnessed the flames.
Multiple agencies responded to the three-story apartment building – Twelve Oaks at Fenwick Plantation off Fenwick Hall Allee – after dispatch received a call that the building was fully involved in flames shortly after 6:00 p.m.
Crews worked to battle the fire which had begun to spread to an adjacent building also under construction and a nearby leasing office.
“Multiple buildings were under construction at the site and in various stages of completion,” said Chief Fire Marshal Michael Julazadeh. “Fire rapidly progressed through the unfinished wood structures, undetected, until reported by citizens in the area.”
Chief Julazadeh said the second apartment building partially collapsed before the fire could be extinguished.
One firefighter was treated at the scene for possible heat exhaustion. No other injuries were reported.
“There was a huge orange glow behind some buildings that didn’t get touched by the flames and through all of the trees it was just really huge, about as high as the tree tops,“ described Twelve Oaks resident John Leite.
Records from the city of Charleston show building 6 totally burned to the slab. Building 5 is a total loss with some of its structure still standing. Building 7 suffered minor damage to the first-level hallway and building 4 had heat damage to its exterior. Building 8 had little to no damage and the leasing office suffered exterior heat damage.
Each building, outside of building 7, had about 30 units.
Investigators from both the Charleston Fire Department and Charleston Police Department worked throughout the night collecting information as part of their investigation into what may have sparked the fire.
The team investigating the fire has concluded the fire was intentionally set.
An agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) was on the scene Wednesday night. He was training with the Charleston Fire Department at the time and is participating in the investigation.
Officials are asking anyone who may have photos or video of the massive fire to share them with investigators by emailing CFDmedia@charleston-sc.gov to help them reconstruct the timeline and conditions during the fire.
The fire could be seen from Downtown Charleston and even as far as the Ravenel Bridge. Roads were shut down for hours forcing many people who live at Twelve Oaks to find another place to stay.
“We couldn’t get back at all last night, they had the Maybank Bridge shut down at Riverland and at Rivers on the other end, so no one could get in,” Tyler Seney said.