The fire that burned an unoccupied West Asheville house early Sunday morning was deliberately set, says an investigator. “I can tell you right now that’s definitely the case,” Asheville-Buncombe Arson Task Force investigator Jeff Tracz told Xpress today.
The Riverview Drive house, one of several in the neighborhood built on steel frames overhanging steep slopes, burned completely before firefighters could extinguish the blaze. Tracz says the lack of people living in the unfinished home and the fact that electricity had not yet been connected were enough to convince him that the fire had been set. “There’s no other option,” he said, but did not speculate on motive or method.
The houses, which stand on what appear to be metal stilts, sit on steel frames. The construction method is intended to reduce the cost of building and the impact on the slopes that comes with grading, said a representative of BATT Associates, developer of the homes.
“This type of development is pretty good for the city,” said Jonathan Scott. “The more density we can achieve in the city, the less burden we put on our rural areas.”
The houses, none of which has gone on the market yet, have caused a stink in the Riverview neighborhood, with some residents putting up signs opposing the construction. But Scott says that the development company has not been contacted directly to talk with neighbors.
Meanwhile, a spate of incidents of vandalism — including other arsons — has sprung up at sites like real estate offices and The Cliffs development site in Swannanoa (see the Aug. 8 issue of Xpress for details on another recent case of a sabotaged development site). Neither Tracz nor Scott are ready to speculate that environmental motives were behind the Riverview fire, but, says Scott, “If it is some sort of eco-terrorist group, I think they are picking on the wrong guy.”
— Brian Postelle, staff writer
photo by Jonathan Welch