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Culloden apartment fire deemed arson

Nov. 29, 2012 @ 11:05 PM

CULLODEN -- Investigators believe a fire which recently damaged a Culloden apartment building was no accident.

They deem it arson -- an act meant to cover up a break-in at Maplewood Place months after the apartment building was condemned due to methamphetamine, said Timmy Chastain, an assistant state fire marshal.

Fire ignited Oct. 23 at the eight-unit apartment complex located in the 2200 block of U.S. 60 near the Cabell-Putnam county line.

Investigators believe the burglar-turned-arsonist forcibly entered the apartment through a window, started a fire in the kitchen and left in the same manner. It remains unclear what, if anything, the burglar stole while inside, Chastain said.

It was the latest in a series of crimes at Maplewood Place. The string started Aug. 19 when West Virginia State Police uncovered a meth lab inside the unit that caught fire. That led to four arrests. The unit had been condemned and padlocked ever since.

Authorities returned to the building twice more for break-ins reported Sept. 10 and Oct. 12, according to the Cabell County Sheriff's Office and the West Virginia State Police.

Fire marshals are unsure as to any connection between the fire and the earlier meth lab, Chastain said. That remains part of the ongoing investigation.

Investigators have some physical evidence, but Chastain said they could use the public's help in solving the case. Anyone with information should call the state's arson tip line at 800-233-FIRE. A $5,000 reward is offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

Chastain investigates many fires, but he found the Maplewood Place incident to be particularly disturbing because tenants were living in two of the units at the time.

The landlord hasn't allowed people to reside at the building since the fire. Chastain said those occupying one unit were relocated to another of the landlord's properties. He was unsure about other tenants.

Four units were still contaminated due to the meth operation at the time of the fire, while two others were vacant, according to those at the scene Oct. 23.

Authorities credited a quick response by firefighters with containing the flames to one room.

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