Authorities build suspect profile Two mobile homes destroyed, two more damaged all within five days
By Tracy Martin
The Monitor Correspondent
CHEROKEE SHORES–Authorities say a serial arsonist is setting fires in Cherokee Shores and are asking for help in finding a suspect before the spree turns deadly. Too close for coincidence, two more fires over the weekend have authorities on alert after finding a connection between the most recent fires.
The second of four fires called in by a passerby last Thursday (Oct. 10) sent firefighters back to Cherokee Shores to battle a mobile home fire on Double Bridge Road, just before 11 p.m. The night before, crews responded to a fire that completely destroyed a mobile home less than a block away on Huntoon Trail. In the early hours Saturday night (Oct. 12), Payne Springs firefighters were back with two more fires, again on Huntoon Trail and Double Tree, crews were able to get the fires out before the mobile homes were destroyed, but both suffered heavy damage.
County fire marshal Shane Renberg and his two deputies, Jim Jenkins and Sherry Rotan, sifted through mounds of charred debris, placing bits and pieces of evidence in small plastic bags.
Renberg is saying little about the evidence he’s collecting or a motive as his office works to find a possible link between this fire and other structure fires in Cherokee Shores over the past six months. There have been eight fires in six months the last four were started in the same way, he said.
“We’re looking for common denominators in all the fires and asking questions,” he told The Monitor. “Is it arson? If so, why and four fires back-to-back like this. If someone is starting fires, we have to find out who so we can make an arrest (to prevent more fire).”
Renberg has ruled five to be arson and three are still under investigation.
Both mobile homes on Double Bridge and Huntoon were unoccupied at the time of the fires, but next door neighbor Jim Stewart says people were coming and going at the Double Bridge location, even though water and electricity are turned off.
A neighbor has reason to believe drug manufacturing may be a factor. Authorities agree, saying drug users often target unoccupied mobile homes for their illegal drug activities.
“There were cars coming and going at all hours, something was going on there, probably meth, we have a lot of crime and drugs here, that’s why you see those bars on my windows,” he said.
Stewart points at two other mobile homes up the road. “There’s a meth-house, there’s one over there, cops shut them down or arrest people, they just find another place to do it or buy the drugs, it’s ruining the neighborhood,” Stewart lamented.
The drug he is talking about is methamphetamine, a concoction of easy-to-obtain chemicals, cleaning solvents and over-the-counter cold medications. The end product is then smoked, snorted or injected with a syringe – cheap to make, but carrying a hefty price tag for small communities, as users turn to theft and burglary to buy the drugs and bring other users into once safe neighborhoods.
The structures that burned last Thursday and Friday were situated next door to occupied homes, put at-risk by the fires. Renberg is asking the community to help his office gather more details.
“I need people to call my office with any information they have, maybe they saw someone or heard something. If one of these fires gets out of control or jumps to other homes, innocent people – maybe even children – are going to get hurt or killed.”
The county fire marshal can be reached by calling (903) 675-6157.