Authorities investigate arson at abandoned home

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By Chris Sardelli

A burned rag and a few droplets of an unknown substance are all investigators have to go on as they look into the early-morning arson of an empty Lancaster home July 26. 

Police and firefighters were called at 8:37 a.m. that day to a small fire at an unoccupied home at 507 Ballard Street, according to a Lancaster Police Department incident report. 

At the scene, officers spoke with a 55-year-old man who said he was walking toward Ballard Street when he saw smoke rising from behind the home. After taking a closer look, the man was surprised to see the porch in flames and called 911, the report said. 

Members of the Lancaster Fire Department soon responded and extinguished the fire. 

After the fire was extinguished, officers spoke with Lancaster Fire Chief Chuck Small and asked for his input on the cause of the fire. 

“According to Chief Small, a black rag had been set on fire which ignited the porch,” an officer wrote in the report. 

Small showed officers where droplets of an unknown substance used to ignite the fire had burned debris beneath the porch, the report said. Based on that information, firefighters and police investigators have labeled the fire as “arson.” 

Small confirmed Wednesday, July 31, that it appears the fire was intentionally set. 

“It appeared definitely suspicious in nature and we ruled out any accidental cause and there was no power to the structure,” Small said. 

Estimated damage to the house is $1,000, and there were no injuries, Small said. 

“It looks like about 20 people were called to the fire, though we canceled about half of them when we had it under control,” he said. 

Though there was only minor damage to the home, Small said it could have been a lot worse had the passerby not seen the fire and reported it. 

“We got there just before it was about to cause major damage to the house,” Small said. “It most definitely could have been worse if someone hadn’t been observant in the neighborhood and notified us. Due to it being a heavy wood structure, it would have gone up.”

Small said the investigation has been turned over to the police department, though a cause has not been determined.

“We couldn’t find the accelerant and all we know is someone maliciously set fire to that porch,” he said. 

Police planned on notifying the homeowner, the report said. It was unknown Wednesday if anyone has been charged or arrested in the case.

Anyone with information about the arson is asked to call the Lancaster Police Department at (803) 283-1171, (803) 283-3313, or the department’s anonymous tip hotline at (803) 289-6040.


Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416