Man charged with arson in NN fire

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – Several people had to escape a blaze at a home in Newport News early Wednesday morning and fire crews say it was set intentionally.

The fire sparked in the 1000 block of 36th Street just after 4 a.m., Battalion Chief J. Douglas Carper said. WAVY News’ Deanna LeBlanc and LaVoy Harrell spotted smoke from the fire from the interstate and rushed to the scene to find flames shooting from a boarding house.

Carper said five occupants were in the home at the time of the fire. They were all able to escape the home before fire crews arrived on scene. Two men were transported to a local hospital with burns and smoke inhalation injuries.

Additionally, a firefighter was treated at the scene for exhaustion. He has since returned to duty.

Lawrence Barnes, photo courtesy Newport News Police.
Lawrence Barnes, photo courtesy Newport News Police.

It took fire crews about an hour to get the blaze under control. Carper said the fire spread rapidly through voids in the walls, floors and ceilings due to the old style balloon frame construction of the home. That made it difficult to fight.

The home will be condemned due to the damage. The American Red Cross is assisting the residents.

Investigators say the fire was intentionally set by one of the renters, 27-year-old Lawrence Barnes. He was arrested and is in the custody of the Newport News Police Department on charges of arson: dwelling usually occupied.

Officials told WAVY News’ Deanna LeBlanc Barnes admitted to starting the fire in more than one place.

According to Holly McPherson with the Newport News Police Department, officers had responded to the home around 11 p.m. Tuesday night for a report of an assault. Barnes told police he had been assaulted by a 42-year-old man. Witnesses said the two men got into a verbal altercation that turned physical.

Other renters of the boarding house told WAVY.com Barnes warned them that something would happen in the morning.

The owner of the boarding house said Barnes had just moved in at the beginning of the month. Friends say he had a rough start in his new home.

“He called me last week stating he really, really wanted to get out of there,” said Dereck Boone, who has rented rooms to Barnes in the past.

Boone said Barnes is working through personal issues, but he never thought he would do something like this.

“I just pray for him,” said Boone.

Barnes denied a jailhouse interview with WAVY.com on Wednesday, saying he wanted to talk to his lawyer first.

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