Fire destroys 5 vacant houses; man charged with arson

Five vacant houses destroyed
Neighbors say with a large number of vacant houses and squatters, they've been afraid this would happen.
Published: Mar. 1, 2023 at 4:45 PM EST
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WILLIAMSON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - A man has been charged Wednesday in connection with an arson-related fire that destroyed five vacant houses in Williamson, according to Williamson Police Chief J.C. Dotson and our crew at the scene.

Eugene Kitchen, 53, of Williamson, is charged with arson and providing false information to a police officer.

Eugene Kitchen faces arson charges in connection with a fire in Williamson that destroyed five...
Eugene Kitchen faces arson charges in connection with a fire in Williamson that destroyed five vacant houses.(Williamson Police Department)

Residents in one neighborhood watched with apprehension as a fire that started at a vacant house quickly spread.

“We could’ve very well lost everything,” Steven Hager said.

Firefighters say the fire began around 2:15 p.m. Wednesday at a vacant house along Mulberry Street in Williamson and quickly spread. Five vacant houses were destroyed.

Hager lives next to one of the houses that burned.

“The wind was blowing really bad, and the leaves are really dry,” Hager said.

The fire travelled through woods on a hillside and reached a vacant house along Vincent Street.

“No one was hurt,” Williamson Fire Department Chief Joey Carey told WSAZ at the scene. “All the firemen are OK. No civilians were hurt. That’s the most important thing right now.”

Firefighters worked to prevent the flames from spreading to occupied homes.

“We’ve got so many abandoned houses, you never know when something is going to happen,” Hager said. “I’m just glad this happened during the day instead of at night. If it had happened at night when everyone was in bed, we may have lost everything.”

“It’s beyond upsetting to me that all my guys were here risking their lives trying to put this fire out to keep it from spreading to livable homes and the folks on each side of this,” Chief Carey said, “and to think someone would intentionally set that, that’s really disturbing to me.”

Crews fight house fire in Williamson, W.Va.
Crews fight house fire in Williamson, W.Va.(WSAZ/Andrew Colegrove)

Workers with the Division of Forestry also responded to the scene to work on containing a brush fire on the hillside. Carey says the fire spread across approximately 30 to 40 acres.

“That’s the concern is all these abandoned houses,” Hager said. “You have squatters and homeless people in and out of them. We’re afraid this is going to happen more often.”

Chief Carey concurs squatters and vacant houses are a serious problem in Williamson. He says he’s hoping more vacant structures will be torn down to prevent an event like this from happening again.

He says crews are expected to remain at the scene overnight to try to prevent the fire from spreading.

Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest.