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Arson linkeyed inbig blaze

A fire that destroyed a 17,000-square-foot home in south Charlotte on Monday could be connected to a series of unsolved arsons at vacant homes over at least the past six years, fire investigators said.

“The only difference is this burned during daylight,” said Charlotte's Chief Fire Investigator David Lowery said, declining to elaborate.

The fire at 8407 Winged Bourne Drive started about 7:30 p.m. in a second floor hallway and spread quickly, shooting flames hundreds of feet into the air. It took 60 firefighters about an hour to contain the blaze that charred edges of copper dormers, gutting the structure.

The three-story home off Gleneagles Road near Quail Hollow Club had plywood floors and studded walls and was about 60 percent complete. Electrical contractors, plus workers installing speaker systems and doing pre-stucco work, left the house about 6:30 p.m., Lowery said.

He couldn't estimate how long the fire burned before someone called 911.

But after interviewing contractors, sifting through debris and reviewing photographs, investigators Tuesday ruled out all possible accidental causes.

There was no electricity in the house, and no welding was being done. There also was no evidence of a discarded cigarette, which typically would smoulder for hours before igniting a fire, Lowery said.

He declined to say what evidence authorities retrieved from the home being built by the owner, Mirko Djuranovic - a local architect and builder.

“I'm not at liberty to say anything,” he said Tuesday. “I cannot tell you anything – it is under investigation.”

The fire department on Monday had given the next door neighbor's address as the fire site.

The fire, which caused $3.5 million in damage, is similar to other unsolved arsons in southeast Charlotte and western Union County since around 2001. Lowery couldn't give details on the number of unsolved cases or specify which could be linked. But he said many of the fires were set in vacant or partially built, expensive homes and burned in the early morning.

In 2002, someone set fire to a $2.5 million home being built for NASCAR racing team co-owner Felix Sabates. When investigators arrived at the home on Baltusrol Lane, they found a padlock missing from the front door. Neighbors reported seeing a man they didn't recognize but couldn't give a description.

From 2002 to 2006, there were 16 more intentionally set fires at vacant or partially built homes in the same area, including one in Lancaster County, S.C.

Until Monday, it had been about a year and a half since the last one, Lowery said.

Investigators haven't determined a motive or any connections beyond the circumstances of the fires, he said.

He declined to comment further about the investigation being conducted by a local task force of firefighters, police detectives and State Bureau of Investigation agents.

Studies – done after a rash of church fires nationwide in the 1990s – show people commit arsons for a number or reasons, including revenge, said Earl Woodham, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. People also start fires to get insurance money, cover up crimes, or make a point about development hurting the environment.

In March, numerous fires that destroyed multimillion homes in Seattle, Wash., were blamed on “domestic terrorism.”

Explosive devices were found inside the homes. Nearby, a spray-painted sign bearing the initials of the Earth Liberation Front, challenged builders' assertion that the homes featured environmentally responsible construction methods, the Seattle Times reported.

Staff researchers Marian Wygand and Marion Paynter contributed.

A fire that destroyed a 17,000-square-foot home in south Charlotte on Monday could be connected to a series of unsolved arsons at vacant homes over at least the past six years, fire investigators said.

“The only difference is this burned during daylight,” said Charlotte's Chief Fire Investigator David Lowery said, declining to elaborate.

The fire at 8407 Winged Bourne Drive started about 7:30 p.m. in a second floor hallway and spread quickly, shooting flames hundreds of feet into the air. It took 60 firefighters about an hour to contain the blaze that charred edges of copper dormers, gutting the structure.

The three-story home off Gleneagles Road near Quail Hollow Club had plywood floors and studded walls and was about 60 percent complete. Electrical contractors, plus workers installing speaker systems and doing pre-stucco work, left the house about 6:30 p.m., Lowery said.

He couldn't estimate how long the fire burned before someone called 911.

But after interviewing contractors, sifting through debris and reviewing photographs, investigators Tuesday ruled out all possible accidental causes.

There was no electricity in the house, and no welding was being done. There also was no evidence of a discarded cigarette, which typically would smoulder for hours before igniting a fire, Lowery said.

He declined to say what evidence authorities retrieved from the home being built by the owner, Mirko Djuranovic - a local architect and builder.

“I'm not at liberty to say anything,” he said Tuesday. “I cannot tell you anything – it is under investigation.”

The fire department on Monday had given the next door neighbor's address as the fire site.

The fire, which caused $3.5 million in damage, is similar to other unsolved arsons in southeast Charlotte and western Union County since around 2001. Lowery couldn't give details on the number of unsolved cases or specify which could be linked. But he said many of the fires were set in vacant or partially built, expensive homes and burned in the early morning.

In 2002, someone set fire to a $2.5 million home being built for NASCAR racing team co-owner Felix Sabates. When investigators arrived at the home on Baltusrol Lane, they found a padlock missing from the front door. Neighbors reported seeing a man they didn't recognize but couldn't give a description.

From 2002 to 2006, there were 16 more intentionally set fires at vacant or partially built homes in the same area, including one in Lancaster County, S.C.

Until Monday, it had been about a year and a half since the last one, Lowery said.

Investigators haven't determined a motive or any connections beyond the circumstances of the fires, he said.

He declined to comment further about the investigation being conducted by a local task force of firefighters, police detectives and State Bureau of Investigation agents.

Studies – done after a rash of church fires nationwide in the 1990s – show people commit arsons for a number or reasons, including revenge, said Earl Woodham, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. People also start fires to get insurance money, cover up crimes, or make a point about development hurting the environment.

In March, numerous fires that destroyed multimillion homes in Seattle, Wash., were blamed on “domestic terrorism.”

Explosive devices were found inside the homes. Nearby, a spray-painted sign bearing the initials of the Earth Liberation Front, challenged builders' assertion that the homes featured environmentally responsible construction methods, the Seattle Times reported.

Staff researchers Marian Wygand and Marion Paynter contributed.

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