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Arson suspected in series of Clayton fires

Clayton police have investigated eight incidents of arson or attempted arson at buildings under construction in a less than 2-square-mile area since last Halloween.

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CLAYTON, N.C. — Two Clayton homes became the latest to be destroyed Sunday in a string of what police believe are set fires.

The fires at the homes in the Glen Laurel subdivision bring to seven the number of buildings under construction that have been set on fire since last Halloween. Police are investigating eight cases of arson or attempted arson in a less than 2-square-mile area.

"It's just very suspicious that we have all these fires in this area," police Capt. John Coley.

A resident called 911 to report a fire around 2:44 a.m., and flames had engulfed a home at 151 Skygrove Drive and were shooting out the roof when firefighters arrived, police said. Crews found a fire in an adjacent home at 137 Skygrove Drive.

"My wife checked on the baby about 3 o'clock, and on her way back, she peeked out the window just by chance, and sure enough, she saw some flames," neighbor Kevin Casatell said.

Clayton, Wilsons Mills and Archer Lodge firefighters extinguished the fires, but both homes were "essentially destroyed," police Chief Glen B. Allen said. Exact damage estimates weren't available.

The State Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Clayton police and Clayton and Johnston County fire marshals were investigating the cause and origin of the fires.

Police want to hear from anyone who saw any suspicious vehicles or people in the Skygrove Drive area between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Monday. A reward is offered for information leading to an arrest, and tipsters can remain anonymous.

Anyone who observed suspicious activity or has other information about the fire should call Clayton police at 919-553-4611 or Clayton Crime Stoppers at 919-359-8479.

The builders of the two homes, Veronelli Homes and Crosswind Custom Homes, surveyed the damage later Sunday. Derek Evans, owner of Crosswind Custom Homes, said the fires came as a shock and he worries that they might hurt sales in the neighborhood.

"It is heartbreaking for the contracting crews to build a house and it is up for sale and to find out later that it was intentionally set on fire," police Capt. John Coley said.

Investigators said they have not definitively linked the Skygrove Drive fires to other fires in the area, but they are similar.

Late Oct. 31, two homes on Cameo Court were set on fire. Early on Dec. 15, a police officer on patrol found that a second fire had been set at 12 Cameo Court.

On Jan. 12, a fire hit a home at 102 Rolling Meadows Drive in the early morning, and investigators determined that someone had also broken into an adjacent home and tried to set it on fire.

On April 5, an early-morning fire ripped through a day care that was under construction in the 3100 block of Vinson Road.

Residents said they had relaxed after a 13-year-old boy who lives in the area was charged in the day care fire.

"He's still in custody, so we thought that it was over," Casatell said.

Investigators said that Sunday's fires were different than earlier ones, because they were set closer to occupied homes. The previous fires had been set in mostly undeveloped areas, Coley said.

"Before, it has always been in areas where the chance of someone getting severely hurt has been fairly small," Casatell said. "Now, it is a different story."

Clayton arson fires


Jamie Munden, Photographer
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