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State rules out arson in deadly fire

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POSTED: April 10, 2007 5:00 a.m.

A state official said a camper that burned behind a home on Belfast-Keller Road in February and claimed the life of 43-year-old Joseph Martin Harrison is not considered suspicious.

According to Glenn Allen, spokesperson for Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, the motor home didn’t have a fire alarm or utilities connected to it when it burned on Feb. 2. He said with any fire where there is a fatality Oxendine’s office must investigate all potential causes.

While the blaze is still under investigation, Allen said his office is leaning towards the cause being careless smoking.

"Intentional causes have been ruled out," Allen said. "If we’re leaning towards anything, we’re leaning towards careless smoking."

Mary Carpenter, on whose property the camper was the night of the fire, said she knew Harrison, who was a vagrant and had been living in the woods in the area for about four years.

"He was a great guy, always helping people out in the neighborhood," Carpenter said. "He worked on cars and did carpentry work. He had a camp in the woods and loved how he was living."

Carpenter said Harrison had been helping her chop wood but said she told him he could not stay in the camper, which she had recently sold but hadn’t yet been moved.

On the night of the fire, Carpenter said she walked to a nearby convenience store where someone asked if she had seen Harrison, who appeared earlier to be drunk.

When she walked back home she saw the camper burning and thought it may have been sparked by a fire she had burning in the fireplace in her home, but realized the camper was burning from the inside instead.

"I noticed no fire on the outside but coming from the inside and going out," Carpenter said. "I saw no fire on the ground, so it had to have started on the inside."

Carpenter said she thought Harrison accidentally started the fire by smoking or trying to get warm.

"It was really cold that night and apparently he snuck in there" to get warm, she said. "It was a terrible accident."

Though Allen said the fire was most likely caused by careless smoking, he said the case is still under investigation.

 

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