Authorities Say Arson Caused Fire at South Carolina Courthouse

August 6, 2008

A fire gutted Lancaster County’s historic courthouse Monday, and South Carolina officials said arson caused the blaze that ripped through the building designed by the creator of the Washington Monument.

No one was injured in the early morning fire, officials said.

Rudy Carter, chairman of the Lancaster County Council, said a broken window was discovered on the first floor of the 180-year-old, two-story courthouse when firefighters were called shortly before 5:30 a.m., leading to the suspicion of arson.

“The whole roof is gone. The interior area where the judges sit is gutted. It’s a total loss,” Carter said.

Police chief Hugh White told reporters the blaze was clearly arson.

“It’s a historic place,” he said. “I just hate it. I really do.”

The State Law Enforcement Division sent an arson team and arson investigation dog, said Jennifer Timmons, an agency spokeswoman. Agents from the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also were summoned, said Steve Willis, the county administrator.

Carter said the roof of the courthouse had collapsed and there was heavy fire damage to the second floor. He said a team would have to be brought in to assess the damage to the building, which is listed as a National Historic Landmark.

The courthouse’s architect, Robert Mills, also designed the Lancaster County Jail and is perhaps best known for the Washington Monument. According to the city Web site, the courthouse dated to 1828.

One witness, Patty Reynolds, the owner of the Red Rose Barber Shop, located on a block next to the courthouse, said the flames were knocked down and the fire was smoldering more than two hours after the initial alarm.

Carter said he wouldn’t even guess the dollar amount of the loss.

“We don’t even know where to begin right now,” he said. “We’re going to have to bring in structural engineers to make sure the walls are still sound. We’ll just have to go from there.”

The ground floor, where the clerk of court offices were located, did not have fire damage but did suffer heavy water damage, Carter said.

The building was only used for court _ other county offices are located in the nearby county administration building, Carter said. A session of court had been scheduled for Monday. Carter said jurors were asked to report Tuesday to the county administration building.

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.