A local man has been charged with arson after Chattanooga firefighters responded to two more vacant house fires Wednesday night. Officials said both appear to have been intentionally set.
Fire officials later Thursday said Jimmie Binford admitted to several arsons, saying he was set fires because he was depressed after his mother died.
The first fire occurred shortly after 6 p.m. at 709 Dodson Ave. The two-story vacant house was divided up into several apartment units.
Eyewitnesses told Captain James Whitmire with the Fire Investigation Division that they saw a man go in the house and leave through a back door. About three minutes later, they saw smoke coming from the house. The fire was set in a bathroom, and the firefighters were able to contain the fire to the one room.
A little later, around 8:45 p.m., Chattanooga firefighters and Captain Whitmire responded to a fire at 2118 Blackford St. This was a vacant duplex, and the fire was started on the back porch. The fire got into the attic, but the firefighters eventually got the blaze under control. Eyewitnesses reported seeing a blue-gray Cadillac leaving the scene.
While Captain Whitmire was investigating this fire, he got a call from one of the eyewitnesses at the fire on Dodson Avenue. They said the man they saw leaving the house was back. Captain Whitmire asked for assistance from the Chattanooga Police Department, and Patrol Officer Lee Mayweather responded. Officer Mayweather apprehended the suspect, who was positively identified by eyewitnesses.
Binford was charged with arson and criminal trespassing in connection with the fire at 709 Dodson Ave. Records show that Binford has been charged with arson and vandalism on several previous occasions.
Authorities said Wednesday night's fires are the latest in what appears to be a string of arson-related fires in February that have occurred in a half-mile radius of each other. The incidents are generally said to be located in the Bushtown-Churchville neighborhoods.
Here's the breakdown:
Feb. 8 - 2118 Cleveland Ave.
Feb. 17 - 2125 Citico Ave.
Feb. 22 - 2118 Blackford St.
Feb. 24 - 837 Arlington Ave.
Feb. 24 - 808 Arlington Ave.
Feb. 28 - 709 Dodson Ave.
Feb. 28 - 2118 Blackford St.
All of the fires have involved vacant buildings, and no injuries have been reported.
Fire officials said Binford, talking with Chattanooga Patrol Officer Christian Lorenzen from the back seat of his patrol car, asked the officer to turn around because he had more to say about the fire. Upon his return, Binford told Captain Whitmire that in addition to setting the Dodson Avenue fire, he was also responsible setting the fires at 2118 Blackford St. on Feb. 28, and the two fires at 837 and 808 Arlington Ave. on Feb. 24.
Captain Whitmire said he offered specific details on each fire to prove his point. When asked why he did it, Mr. Binford said his mother passed away on Feb. 1, and that he was depressed. Captain Whitmire said Binford will now be charged with three additional counts of arson and criminal trespassing.
Captain Whitmire said the Fire Investigation Division is working closely with the Chattanooga Police Department "in an effort to stop this dangerous criminal activity."
He said, "Setting fire to vacant houses is irresponsible and dangerous. These fires endanger the lives of residents living near those structures, and they are a real hazard to the firefighters who have to put the fires out."