Fire at day care is latest to unoccupied structure in Clayton
Posted April 5, 2010 6:22 a.m. EDT
Updated April 6, 2010 12:00 p.m. EDT
Clayton, N.C. — Clayton police and fire investigators were dealing the latest in a string of suspicious fires Monday.
The blaze was reported at Building Blocks Childcare, a day care under construction at 55 Hawkesburg Drive near the 3100 block of Vinson Road in Clayton, just before 4 a.m.
"We say it's very suspicious due to the fact that it is under construction," Clayton Police Department Captain J.L. Gerrell said.
About four homes under construction have been set on fire in recent months and Powhatan Elementary School, across the street from the day care, suffered a rash of vandalism in January and February. A school bus there also caught fire.
"The blaze is considered very suspicious because other buildings under construction in the vicinity were intentionally burned in October 2009 and in January 2010," according to a Clayton police press release.
Building Blocks owner Lois Stephenson said she has been nervous about arson in the area recently and decided to install aerial lights.
"We were hoping they would be a deterrent to whatever was going on. Also the police have been very diligent about providing surveillance to the area," she said. "I'm really angry and just so sad about the whole thing."
Authorities told Stephenson that an officer was across the street in the Powhatan Elementary parking lot about 30 minutes before the fire was called in.
“So they've been doing their job,” Stephenson said. "They were keeping things looked after, but where there is evil, it has a way of getting in.”
Stephenson said she planned to have her daughter serve as director of the day care, which was scheduled to open Aug. 1 with 200 children and 35 staff members. She has insurance and plans to rebuild.
“(It's) just a matter of when the insurance adjusters say I can begin and we’ll be ready to go again," Stephenson said.
Terri Benson lives next door to where the day care center was being built. "I always felt safe, but now you just don't know," she said.
The Clayton Police Department and the State Bureau of Investigation are trying to determine the cause and origin of the fire, along with the Clayton Fire Marshall.
No one was hurt, and there was no word on what caused the blaze.
Anyone that may have seen any suspicious vehicles or people in the area from 1 to 5 a.m. Monday, or have any information about the fire, should call Clayton police at 919-553-4611 or Clayton Crime Stoppers at 919-359-TIPZ (8479).
A reward is available for confidential information that leads to an arrest.