City ups the ante for info on arson suspect

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- A task force made up of local fire and law enforcement officers announced on Thursday that the reward amount for information leading to the arrest of a suspect in the investigation of several suspicious downtown fires has been increased.

A reward amount of $50,000 is now being offered. The reward was previously set at $25,000.

The bulk of the funds for the initial reward, $20 thousand, came from the city's pocket. The rest came from South Carolina Insurance News. The additional $25 thousand also comes from the city.

The fires downtown are a big concern, and according to officials, they have been a concern since 2003. Fire Marshall Mike Julazadeh said there have been more than 50 suspicious fires in the downtown area since 2003. Many started the same way -- on the porch during the dark hours of the morning.

Since, the city has formed the Peninsula Arson Task Force to investigate the fires.

"We're asking the community to be vigilant looking for any suspicious activity in your area," said Charleston Fire Department spokesman Mark Ruppel. "...Most importantly, to report it to us immediately."

Charleston mayor Joe Riley said he believes there are people in the community who have information that could lead to an arrest.

"We believe there are good citizens in our community who have information that could be helpful in finding those persons responsible for setting fires in the peninsula area," Riley said. "That they have pertinent information that would be quite valuable to the investigation."

The task force is currently investigating a suspicious fire that happened on Vanderhorst earlier this week. Officials say they are looking to identify and interview a key witness in that investigation.

"We're determined to find the person or persons responsible and have them held accountable," said Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen.

If you have any information or tips, you may call the Arson Hotline at 1-800-92-ARSON.