05/21/04 — Cause of house fire not determined yet

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Cause of house fire not determined yet

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on May 21, 2004 2:00 PM

A fire that destroyed a brick home, which officials said was the center of a domestic dispute, has been turned over to authorities for further investigation.

The cause and point of origin of the fire in the home at 404 Southwood Drive in the Southwood Estates subdivision in Mar Mac have not been determined, investigators said today.

But Wayne County Sheriff's Detective Sgt. Shawn Harris said natural and accidental causes have been ruled out.

"It's unusual, and there's lots of unusual characteristics that have to be explained," Harris said.

No one was home, and no one was injured in the fire.

The home has not been lived in for a while, but investigators did not know how long that it has been vacant.

The owner, Willie Earl Ray, and his estranged wife, Debbie, are each trying to take possession of the home, investigators said.

"That was the most involved fire that I've been to," Mar Mac Fire Chief Bill Harrell said. "The whole lower floor was on fire when we arrived."

Firefighters needed about six hours to put out the blaze, investigate the cause and finish salvage work.

Harris said he, Detective Robert Chunn, Special Deputy Larry Pierce, a former arson investigator with the State Bureau Investigation, and two SBI special agents, John Rea and John Umphlet, have finished their on-scene investigation. An arson dog assisted.

Several samples were collected Thursday and will be analyzed at the SBI lab.

Harris said investigators also will interview more neighbors and search through more records.

Meanwhile, yellow tape encircled the home to prevent people from being injured by debris. Harris said the second floor had collapsed during the fire. The home was valued at $143,000. No contents were left inside.

Ray had complained that when he had come home, someone had removed furniture and other property, Harris said.

Harrell said 12 Mar Mac volunteer firefighters answered the 4:50 a.m. call with three trucks.

Thoroughfare assisted with two trucks and about 12 firefighters, and Grantham brought a truck and several firefighters, Harrell said.

The homes beside it were not damaged, but neighbors were asked to move their vehicles so that they were not damaged by falling embers, Harrell said.

Anyone with information about the fire was asked to call Detective Sgt. Harris at 731-1483 or Goldsboro-Wayne County Crime Stoppers at 735-2255. Callers may remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.