A fire that destroyed three houses and damaged two others in Rock Hill is being investigated as arson, police said Friday.
Thursday's fire at five houses along Soft Winds Village Drive started "under suspicious circumstances," a police report notes. The fire caused $735,000 in damage among the five houses. No one was hurt.
Authorities at first said they did not have anything to consider the fire as suspicious. But a State Law Enforcement Division tracking dog indicated several areas of concern, according to a press release issued Friday from the city of Rock Hill. The release did not elaborate.
"If this is the situation, not only did they take everything I had, but they also took from my neighbors," said Eric McCrorey, whose house is where investigators believe the fire started. "Why would someone do this to me, my family and neighbors?"
The news stunned McCrorey's wife, Mattie.
"It's unbelievable," she said. "We were put in danger."
A police report shows that a resident whose house also was destroyed by the blaze told police he heard noises outside prior to the fire.
"I was looking at the news around 4:30 a.m.," Ajanaku Murdock said. "I heard a car moving down the street. (It) sounded like I heard a car door slam. After a few minutes, the car drove off. About five minutes later, I heard an explosion."
The police report states Murdock heard a "loud pop," followed by yelling. Outside, he saw flames coming from his neighbor's house, according to the report.
Around 5 a.m., the McCroreys said they heard an explosion that came from their carport, where their Ford Mustang and a Ford Expedition were parked, Mattie McCrorey said.
When Eric McCrorey went to investigate the source of the explosion, he saw flames coming from his Expedition, the report notes.
That fire then spread to four neighboring houses, including a vacant one. When the Rock Hill Fire Department arrived around 5:20 a.m., it found three houses engulfed, Rock Hill Fire Battalion Chief Mark Simmons said.
While the fire was contained within about 40 minutes, firefighters battled hot spots as late at 9 a.m., he said.
"It was burning very intensely. It was extremely hot," said neighbor Rodney White. "It burned very quick."
When the damage was done, three charred shells of what used to be homes remained. Melted vinyl siding clung to the side of one house, while insulation showed on the side of another house.
Later, authorities probed Mattie McCrorey's Expedition and the area around it. It was last driven around 6 p.m. Wednesday and had not given her any trouble, she said.
The announcement of suspected arson caught neighbor DeQuita White off guard.
"To hear that somebody would do that to them is surprising to me," White said. "They're good people. They go to work and come home. They have people who come over. They're always the same people."
Mattie McCrorey on Friday vowed to move on with her life.
"Even though my house is gone, I still have my family," she said. "We're going to be OK."
Anyone with information about the fire should call 1-800-92- ARSON.
Want to help?
Organizers are seeking donations to help families affected by Thursday's fire at Soft Winds Village. Donations can be dropped off from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at Finley Road Elementary School at 1089 Finley Road, Rock Hill. For details, call 981-1280.
The York County chapter of the American Red Cross continues to accept monetary donations to help those displaced by fires. If you'd like to help, mail checks payable to the American Red Cross to York County American Red Cross, 200 Piedmont Blvd., Rock Hill, SC, 29732. For details, call 329-6575.