Arson Suspected in BH High-rise Fire

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BENTON HARBOR - Police have identified a suspect in what they now believe was arson in a high-rise apartment building Thursday night.

The suspect remains at large, but police are seeking an arrest warrant, according to a news release Friday afternoon from Benton Harbor police.

Benton Harbor Fire Division Capt. Daniel E. McGinnis said he wasn't releasing the name of the apartment's occupant, because it is part of the investigation.

No one was hurt in the fire.

The fire started in a sixth-floor apartment in the River Terrace apartment building off Eighth Street a little before 10 p.m., sending the building's elderly residents out to wait in the cold night as firefighters quenched the blaze.

"I smelt the smoke," said resident Essie Flowers as she stood in the snow just minutes after evacuating the 10-story building. "I said, 'Oh my God, I smell smoke' and I came out on the balcony and I saw this big flame."

The apartment building is government-subsidized senior housing, and though many people had to be pushed from the building in wheelchairs, there were no injuries, Benton Harbor Public Safety Department Lt. Douglas Bell said. Some people living on the other end of the building from the fire waited it out in their apartments. Firefighters were posted with the residents in case they needed to be evacuated.

The fire was out by 10:30 p.m., and firefighters began allowing residents back indoors to wait in the lobby.

Benton Harbor firefighters believe the fire began somewhere in the apartment's living room, Bell said.

By 11 p.m. residents returned to their apartments. The apartment where the fire began sustained heavy smoke and fire damage, but the surrounding apartments only had water damage from the complex's strong sprinklers, Bell said.

Firefighters cleared the scene by 1:15 a.m.

Several residents were left homeless due to the damage, but they were housed in vacant apartments within the complex, according to the news release. Many building residents left with friends and relatives.

Benton Harbor off-duty firefighters, reserve firefighters and public safety officers responded to the scene. They were assisted by St. Joseph firefighters, the American Red Cross and the Berrien County Sheriff's Department.

Tags:  high-rise fire protection, senior housing fire protection