SLED investigating fire at Lancaster councilwoman's property

LANCASTER, SC (WBTV) - SLED investigators were at the scene of a house fire in Lancaster for most of Monday.

According to a SLED spokesperson, they were called in to investigate the fire that happened on the 700 block of Arch Street at the request of the Lancaster Police Department.

Police Chief Scott Grant said it was a joint decision by the police department and the Lancaster Fire Department.

"We owe the property owner a complete investigation and as many answers as we can provide," Chief Grant wrote in response to WBTV's questions. "We do not have a trained arson investigator on staff at this time, therefore SLED was requested to assist with the investigation. This is standard procedure."

Fire Chief Justin McLellan said they also made the call to avoid a conflict of interest since the property is owned by former and recently re-elected councilwoman Linda Blackmon.

"That way both of our agencies were out of the question, so we notified the state to have a third party come in," McLellan said.

Blackmon says she formerly lived in the Arch Street home, but for the last 20 years, she's been running her foundation out of it. She says the Michael Blackmon Foundation, which works to better the community, was started in honor of her brother who died in 1997.

"Scholarships, reading programs, we've helped the homeless in this house," Blackmon said.

Blackmon says right now there is an elderly man who lives at the house. She says he woke up to the smell of smoke - and that's when he saw the fire.

"He tried to smother it," Blackmon said, "but I guess it just got bigger."

McLellan says as of Monday afternoon, they have not found out where the fire originated from or how it started, but that it appears to have come from the front side of the house.

"Maybe about 65 percent is damaged inside from water, heat, and smoke," McLellan said.

The man who lives there got out safely, but one firefighter was taken to the hospital for dehydration, according to McLellan.

While investigators are trying to find out how the fire started, Blackmon speculates it was arson.

"I think someone threw something in there and probably thought I was in there," Blackmon said.

WBTV asked investigators if they suspect the fire could have been arson, but McLellan says they are letting SLED handle the investigation.

"We don't have anything that's leading us to that, so right now we are ruling that out and letting SLED do their investigation," McLellan said.

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