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The neighbor of a man whose mobile home was engulfed in flames early Thursday, Aug. 1, was arrested this week on charges of arson and burglary.
Donald Joseph Wheeler III, 27, 3231 Cedar Circle, was arrested Friday, Aug. 2, on charges of first-degree burglary and third-degree arson, according to a Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office press release.
Deputies and firefighters responded to the blaze at about 5:18 a.m. at a single-wide mobile home in the 3200 block of Cedar Circle. The home, which is near both the Union County border and the North Corner community, is about one mile off Charlotte Highway (U.S. 521).
Lancaster County Fire Marshal Stephen Blackwelder said members of the Shiloh Zion, Riverside and Indian Land volunteer fire departments arrived at the scene.
“When we first went out and got there, the homeowner stated that he thought it was suspicious. He told our guys the Sheriff’s Office needed to investigate,” Blackwelder said. “He told us he came home and found his house on fire, as well as some damage done to his property.”
Firefighters managed to extinguish the fire after about three hours, though not before it caused significant damage to the older-style mobile home. Estimated damage is $30,000, the sheriff’s release said.
“It extensively damaged the center portion of the home, which contained the living room and kitchen,” he said. “The center is gone, though the ends are still standing.”
No one was injured in the fire, Blackwelder said.
He said firefighters used about 2,500 gallons of water to quash the flames.
“We tried to preserve the scene for the Sheriff’s Office,” he said.
Deputies spoke with the homeowner and determined that the home had been burglarized and the fire had been set intentionally, the sheriff’s release said.
After an investigation by both criminal and crime scene investigators, Wheeler was charged and arrested.
About 20 firearms and other property stolen from the victim’s home were found during the course of the investigation, the release said.
On Friday, Wheeler remained jailed at the Lancaster County Detention Center awaiting a bond hearing. His first court hearing is scheduled for Oct. 11, according to the S.C. Judicial Department online case database.
Sheriff Barry Faile lauded his employees for their quick response and arrest in the case.
“First and foremost I am thankful that no one was injured during this incident,” Faile said. “Secondly, I am extremely pleased at how quickly our personnel came together and how well we worked together with other agencies to get this suspect into custody.”
This is not Wheeler’s first run-in with authorities.
Per court records, Wheeler was tried in absence in October 2009 and found guilty in a bench trial of criminal domestic violence stemming from a 2007 arrest.
In Aug. 2011, Wheeler pleaded guilty in General Sessions court to failure to stop for blue lights from an arrest earlier that month. He received a one-year suspended sentence and one year of probation, per the judicial database.
Wheeler also has a pending charge of criminal domestic violence, high and aggravated, from an Aug. 2012 arrest. He was released shortly after the arrest on a $25,000 surety bond, per court records.
Grace Ave. fire
Numerous firefighters were called days earlier to fight an unrelated late-night fire inside a Grace Avenue home, though the home was a total loss.
Sheriff’s deputies responded at 10:35 p.m. Tuesday, July 30, to a house fire in the 1700 block of Grace Avenue, according to a Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office incident report.
When they arrived, members of Gooches, Elgin, Bell Town and McDonald Green volunteer fire departments were already on the scene battling the fire.
After examining the home, firefighters said there were no signs the fire was intentionally set.
Blackwelder said the home is a rental property and the fire may have started in the kitchen.
“The family was home at the time,” Blackwelder said. “There were no injuries, but due to the extent of damage, the Red Cross had to assist the family.”
Firefighters told deputies the house was a complete loss and would be “completely burned.” Estimated value of the home is $130,000, the report said.
As fire crews extinguished the fire, they were notified of another 911 call reporting a structure fire on nearby Small Street, Blackwelder said.
“That turned out to be absolutely nothing, though it taxed us to send crews from one scene to another,” he said. “Someone thought they saw smoke coming from an abandoned house that is all grown up around it.”
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416