N.C. fire chief victim of possible serial arsonist
Investigators believe at least six fires have been set deliberately in Shelby this month, including one at the home of Fire Chief William Hunt
Gaston Gazette, Gastonia, N.C.
Police and fire officials are following leads in a string of fires believed to be arson, including one at the home of the Shelby Fire and Rescue chief.
Investigators believe at least six fires were set deliberately in multiple locations in west Shelby this month. On Thursday, Shelby firefighters responded to two fires believed to be connected to this string of recent arsons. One of the fires destroyed part of the home of Shelby Fire & Rescue Chief William Hunt.
Hunt and his family were awakened Thursday morning to the sound of breaking glass.
"It was about 1 a.m., and I was in bed asleep and the kids were upstairs. Faith and I woke up about the same time," Hunt said.
The husband and wife went to investigate the noise that was coming from the front of their home on Thompson Street. As they approached the front of the home, Hunt heard more sounds of breaking glass, then he saw a bright light.
"We thought it was someone breaking in," Hunt said. "We came in and the curtains were on fire."
Hunt went into firefighter mode, closed the doors to the living room to help slow down the spread of the fire and from smoke getting in the home. Faith yelled for their kids.
"You have that first moment of wondering if everyone is OK," Hunt said.
The kids came downstairs. The family grabbed their phones and pets and got out of the home. They waited outside for Shelby Fire & Rescue Station 2 to arrive, but the Cleveland County Volunteer Fire Department showed up.
Hunt was confused.
The men under his command were tied up less than a quarter of a mile down the road on Graham Street with a car fire, also believed to be arson, according to Shelby Police Department reports. Just down the street from Hunt's Thompson Street home on Warren Street, another car's roof was set on fire.
Shelby Police detectives and fire officials are currently looking into the multiple fires that happened that night and others set in the same vicinity, said Lt. Scott Champion with Shelby Police.
Detectives believe this all started with a bus fire at an old church on Calvary Street on July 8 and another fire in a trash can on Whisnant Street the same day. It has slowly grown over the past few weeks. A day after the first fires, an abandoned home at 820 Hamrick Street was set ablaze. On July 14, another trash can in Optimist Park was burned. Then the most recent fires involving a car on Graham Street and Hunt's home the same morning.
Police are still unsure if Hunt was a specific target or if it is a coincidence that he is a fire chief. Hunt said he doesn't believe his home was a specific target, but a crime of opportunity.
"You've got what you need, cover, easy accessibility," he said.
Champion believes along the same lines as Hunt that many of the fires were crimes of opportunity. He fears if the crimes continue, the results could become increasingly devastating.
"I'm afraid the next one could be where someone is hurt or killed," Champion said.
Investigators are still looking for the suspect or suspects in these incidents.
Instead of investigating with his team on the causes for these fires, Hunt has stepped aside because he's now considered a victim of the crime. He said he is grateful that no one was hurt.
"It happened the best way it could have," Hunt said. "At least now I can definitely say that smoke detectors save lives. That is what saved us."
Investigators ask that anyone with information in these incidents call 704-484-6845 or Cleveland County Crime Stoppers at 704-481-8477.
©2020 Gaston Gazette, Gastonia, N.C.