Island home again target of suspicious fire

astice@islandpacket.comDecember 10, 2012 

Joseph Miller of Hilton Head island stands in front of what is left of his gazebo Monday morning after it was set on fire, according to fire officials.

DELAYNA EARLEY/STAFF PHOTO

  • Five brush fires were set Sunday afternoon along a power-line easement parallel to Spanish Wells Road, according to the Town of Hilton Head Fire & Rescue Division.

    The fires were discovered at about 6 p.m. in between Summerfield Court and Grant Drive after a caller near Dempsey Lane reported a fire in the woods behind his home. The cause is under investigation, but the number and multiple origins suggest arson, division spokeswoman Joheida Fister said.

    The division did not request a Beaufort County Sheriff's Office investigation into the fires. Sgt. Robin McIntosh said no link has been discovered between the Spanish Wells fires and the suspicious fire that destroyed a gazebo early Monday on Oakview Road. However, "nothing has been ruled out as of yet," McIntosh said.

  • Anyone with information about the fire set at Oakview Road or the brush fires along Spanish Wells Road should call the S.C. Arson Hotline at 1-800-92-ARSON (27766). A reward may be offered if information leads to an arrest and indictment.

Hilton Head Island resident Joseph Miller awoke early Monday to find part of his house in flames.

It wasn't the first time.

The fire that consumed a gazebo Monday near the home Miller hand-built on Oakview Road was intentionally set, fire officials said. It's the second suspicious blaze on Miller's property. The first occurred in August when his work shed and a lifetime collection of tools were destroyed by fire.

Miller said he was awakened by a noise early Monday and went out to shine his flashlight in the backyard. Shortly after, his 18-year-old son shattered a first-floor window to get out of his bedroom and called out that the house was on fire, Miller said.

Two engines, a truck company and the battalion chief with the Town of Hilton Head Fire & Rescue Division arrived at 4:17 a.m. to find the 12-square-foot gazebo aflame. It was destroyed, along with about 20 feet of fence.

The flames also singed tangerine trees and azaleas.

Miller said he liked to relax in the gazebo, and he had just finished decorating it for Christmas.

During the holidays for more than a decade, Miller has transformed his home with a hodgepodge of wreaths, bright ornaments and lights. Two Santa Clause figurines -- one with dreadlocks wearing a novelty hat in pan-African colors -- were spared, but a third perched on the gazebo roof is gone.

The division, which has a fire-investigation unit, determined this one was no accident.

"There was electrical (wiring) in the gazebo, but not in the area of origin that could have caused the fire," said spokeswoman Joheida Fister.

Samples from the scene were collected for testing at the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office arson lab, Fister said.

Sheriff's Sgt. Robin McIntosh said investigators have not decided whether the evidence will be tested. Material collected from the Aug. 21 shed fire could not be tested because the tools and building materials stored there already included accelerants, such as gasoline and acetone, she said.

Miller believes the fire was set by someone who has a "beef" with his 24-year-old son, who also lives there. The Sheriff's Office has not released a motive or suspects.

Miller said he'll clean up the blackened wood frame that was once his gazebo. He got rid of the debris from the shed himself, tossing the charred material into a trash container loaned by The Deep Well Project.

Before he sets to the task again, he'll need some rest, he said.

"This thing has got me shaky, and I didn't sleep last night," he said.

Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/LCBlotter.

Related content: Hilton Head man uses his 'junk' to create real spirit of Christmas, Dec. 22, 2009

Suspicious fire burns down Hilton Head man's shed, Aug. 21, 2012

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