UPDATE | Crosland Park neighbors worried about more arson incidents despite arrest

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News 12 NBC 26 News At 11 | Thursday, May 18, 2017

Jesse Green

UPDATE | 11:45 p.m.

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- A man is behind bars facing arson charged after two fires destroy two home in Aiken's Crosland Park neighborhood, but people living near there are worried there might be a copycat at work.

That Aiken man was arrested Wednesday afternoon, but one discovery has left neighbors with more questions and worries about what comes next.

"This is a washcloth," Mike Alexander points out. "This is part of what was found stuffed down in here."

It's what he found inside his truck's gas line Thursday morning during his normal errands. He asked News 12 NBC 26 not to show his face but did show us the scorched rubber and burnt gas cap left behind.

"I was cutting grass this morning and I decided to come and get some stuff over here on the edge of the neighbors yard that they neglected," Alexander says, "and that's when I noticed that the hatch was open for the gas tank."

There, he found the gas cap on the ground and the scorched washcloth stuffed inside his fuel intake. Aiken Public Safety Arson investigators confirmed what he had feared: somebody had tried to light the fuel inside his truck on fire, likely leading to an explosion.

He says the fire burned out before it could reach the fuel itself, but says he's now lost his peace of mind after a week of incidents across his area.

"The intent was there," Alexander says. "Malicious intent to destroy somebody's property that I personally worked hard for."

He lives in Crosland Park, where two homes have already been destroyed by an arsonist. He says neighbors across the area are on edge worried about their property despite an arrest being made in two cases.

"It's a little bit of anxiety added to the paranoia of things that are going on here in this neighborhood right now. We had a house just across the street burned just a couple days ago, an intentionally set fire," Alexander says. "It's a little bit scary that we got somebody trying to burn us out."

Deputies arrested Jesse Green Wednesday on arson charges who was accused of destroying both homes. But Alexander and other neighbors are worried someone else might be picking up where Green left off.

He says the timing throws the act into suspicion because he's not sure how long the washcloth had been inside his truck's fuel line. He doesn't drive the truck that much and thinks Green may have been behind this incident as well, but worries about any other copycats who might be out there.

"They do have a guy in custody, but I don't know," Alexander says. "Maybe I'm just not convinced yet that everybody's been caught."

Until he's certain, Alexander says he'll be keeping an eye out for more sparks.

"I've been here since 1980," Alexander says, "and we don't go without a fight."

One Aiken Public Safety officials says an arson team checked out Alexander's truck today and are investigating. He says it's too early to tell if this is connected with the other house fires across Crosland Park and for citizens to call about any suspicious behavior.

Stay with News 12 NBC 26 for more updates on this story.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017 News 12 First at Five

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Just in the past month there have been at least four cases of fires in the Crosland Park neighborhood. Now Aiken Public Safety connected all four of these fires to one man, Jesse Green, who has a past with arson.

Four different houses, one month all set on fire with the most recent here on the corner of Brentwood Place and Aldrich Street in Crosland Park.

"My dog was barking and it woke me up and I was thinking I was just taking her out for a walk when I noticed the blaze," Judy Chambliss said, who lives next door.

But it was the last clue needed to lead police to connect Jesse Green to these four fires. It started a month ago on George Street, but week after week Public Safety responded to more fires.

"Nothing really stuck out to us then, but then we started seeing a series of fires over a period of time pretty frequently," Detective Jeremy Hembree said.

All the different fires officers say connected back to Green or "Toad" as he's called who is no stranger to an arson charge. He's been charged twice in the past.

"He knew or frequented those houses, so he was not a stranger to any of the occupants at that house or the neighborhood," Hembree said.

His charges were not done there, as the Sheriff's Office connected him to two more fires nearby to Wagner Road in Aiken.

"We've obviously had fires where they've been set, maybe one here or one there, but not to the frequency where we were once a week basically having a fire," Hembree said.

Even with Green off the streets, some say they are still worried about safety and are taking precautions.

"I got a barky dog, so what I need is a Taser," Chambliss said.

Police say another similarity in all of the cases was they were all started in the back of the house near a back door.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

4 p.m.

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- A judge has denied bond for a man accused of arson after two house fires in Crosland Park.

Jesse Green, 35, has been denied bond on the arson charges and was granted $465 bond for each trespassing charge. A judge said Green was not allowed to contact any of the victims.

Green is facing three counts of arson in the second degree and one count of arson in the third degree. Green also faces one charge of trespassing after notice.

Investigators said Green is responsible for four home fires dating back to April 18 that occurred on Aldrich Street, Brentwood Place, and George Street. Aiken Public Safety said Green is also facing additional charges by Aiken County Sheriff's Office.

12:19 p.m.

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- A suspect who police say was responsible for two home fires in Crosland Park has been arrested on arson charges, and News 12 NBC 26 has learned the suspect has a prior conviction of arson.

According to Aiken Public Safety, Jesse Andra Green, 35, will be in court this afternoon for a bond hearing. Green is facing three counts of arson in the second degree and one count of arson in the third degree. Green also faces one charge of trespassing after notice.

Investigators say Green is responsible for four home fires dating back to April 18 that occurred on Aldrich Street, Brentwood Place, and George Street. Aiken Public Safety said Green is also facing additional charges by Aiken County Sheriff's Office.

Green previously pleaded guilty to a charge of arson in the third degree back in 2014 for an arson committed back in 2010.

This is a developing story, we will have a reporter in the courtroom for the bond hearing. We will keep you updated on the latest.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

11:45 p.m.

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- There's not much left after a home near Crosland Park in Aiken goes up in flames Tuesday morning.

Investigators say two people were inside the home and made it out safely, while another couple living at the house were not home at the time of the fire. Firefighters say they found the home fully engulfed in flames around 2:30 a.m. and took nearly two hours to get under control.

While four people are now without a place to live, one neighbor says they were already targeted. Others say their whole neighborhood could burn if something's not done soon.

Jerry Hufnagel remembers that morning two weeks ago when his neighbor's house went up in flames near Crosland Park in Aiken.

"When I looked out that roof was just burning like crazy," Hufnagel says. "It was just a huge ball of fire."

He says he saw an orange glow coming through his window and worried his home was on fire. Now, he says he worries his home will be the next to go up in flames.

"It's scary. It makes me wish I wasn't living here," Hufnagel says. "You're tense all the time, you lose a lot of sleep. It changes your life."

Crime tape and shattered windows show the damage left behind. But just a few steps down Brentwood Place, more crime tape, and another destroyed home remain after a fire Tuesday morning.

"There's no doubt there's an arsonist in the neighborhood," Hufnagel says, "no doubt in my mind."

Investigators say both fires are suspicious and could be connected, but there's also a third home being investigated: Hufnagel's home of more than ten years.

He says somebody tried to light his gas grills on fire a week after his neighbor's home burned down. Thankfully, he says the rubber covers kept the flames from reaching the gas tank and possibly exploding.

"I think somebody tried to get me again this time," Hufnagel says. "They're trying to burn the whole neighborhood the way it works one house at a time. Thank God they didn't get the job done."

Two homes, and years of memories, gone in a matter of seconds in a cloud of smoke. Hufnagel says he wants justice before there's a third.

"They need to be put away for life," Hufnagel says. "Destroying people's homes and everything they worked for, they don't deserve to be running around out there and doing this crazy stuff."

When two of those fires happen just a few feet from each other with another home targeted nearby, that's one of the first key signs two separate fires might be connected. Investigators say they're still looking into what happened and the investigation is ongoing.

Stay with News 12 NBC 26 for more updates.

3:08 p.m.

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- A family of four has lost their home after a fire on Aldrich Street in Crosland Park.

The fire was called in at 2:30 a.m. and by the time crews got out there, the house was fully involved and flames were venting out of the roof, according to Lt. Jake Mahoney with Aiken Public Safety.

It took crews and hour and a half to get the fire under control. Two people were home and were able to make it out without injuries. Two other people were not home at the time of the fire.

Public Safety said the cause is not known at this time and is being treated as suspicious.

Mahoney said there have been other fires in the area and investigators will look into whether they may be connected.

American Red Cross is assisting the family.

People can donate by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED-CROSS, or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Read the original version of this article at www.wrdw.com.