Arson cited as cause of devastating apartment fire

Fire investigators last week continued to probe a Monday, Nov. 9, explosion and ensuing blaze that gutted a Hillcrest Apartments building of six units. They believe it was intentionally set.

Watching your home burn: Shelby Edwards (left) and her mother, Sharon Fox, dab tears from their eyes as they watch a fire destroy the Hillcrest Apartments building they called home on Nov. 9. Fire investigators believe the blaze was intentionally set. Photos by Jason Sandford

Investigators determined early on that the fire, which started about 11:30 a.m., was stoked by natural gas. Later in the week, they announced that the blaze was arson.

"We did find that the release of natural gas was intentional," Asheville Fire Chief Scott Burnette told Xpress. "There was also a separate fire set elsewhere in the apartment."

When the natural gas encountered the fire, it caused the explosion and blaze that roared through the building that was home to six different apartments housing 22 people. Burnette declined to discuss how the natural gas was released. The investigation includes members of the Asheville Police Department, the Asheville-Buncombe Arson Task Force and agents from the N.C. State Bureau of Investigations, as well as the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

No one was seriously injured in the fire. An Asheville Housing Authority maintenance man, who was in one of the units next door to the apartment where the fire started, injured his ankle after jumping out of a second-floor window to escape. Sharon Fox, who lived in the apartment at the opposite end of the building, said she was washing dishes when she heard the explosion.

"It freaked me out," a shaken Fox said at the scene. "I ran out the back door and I could see gutters, pieces of the building flying. The whole building just collapsed on that end."

Just after the blaze, Angel Matthews, who lived in the apartment where it first broke out, told Xpress that she suspected her former boyfriend Carl Vincent Jones Sr. had set the fire. The morning of the fire, Matthews was at the Buncombe County Courthouse getting a temporary restraining order against Jones, who was subsequently arrested on charges of breaking into her apartment on Nov. 7. A judge issued the restraining order after Matthews said Jones had threatened to kill her.

Sixteen of the residents of the building were in temporary housing last week. Anyone with information about the arson is invited to contact Crime Stoppers at 255-5050.

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