The Madison Township Fire Department and the Fairfield County Sheriff's Office are continuing to investigate a Canal Winchester fire that officials are calling "suspicious."
"Madison Township is handling the investigation into the fire, which is a cooperative investigation with the sheriff's department," Fire Chief Robert Bates said Dec. 1. "Given what was there and what everybody is aware of, we are calling this suspicious, but I'm not able to comment on specifics.
"We have not yet determined the cause but have been working all day on it and will be aggressively pursuing those answers."
Sgt. Jared Collins of the Fairfield County Sheriff's Office, said it appears the fire started during the night Nov. 30 in one of the vehicles in the driveway of a home at 6404 Stretton Place owned by Holly and Dustin Bower and their baby daughter. It quickly spread to a second vehicle before starting to burn the house.
The two adults and child escaped the fire with their pets.
According to officials, a gas tank was found at the scene, along with graffiti which threatened violence and had racial undertones. Those messages included one that read, "I'll shoot you next time.
"Once I started to see the vinyl melting off the house, that was a pretty good idea to maybe abandon ship for a little bit," Bower told 10TV News.
"I think I'm a nice guy," he said. "I'm easy to get along with, you know. It's just, what did I do? Something's going on. I'm not quite sure what it is."
Besides the possible arson investigation, being led by Madison Township, detectives from the Fairfield County Sheriff's Office are also investigating other potential crimes based on the threatening graffiti, Collins said.
"Normally, the fire department, along with the support of some of our detectives, would handle all of the investigation, and that might include the State Fire Marshal's Office," Collins said. "But in this case, Madison Township is investigating the fire and we're working on any other crimes associated with the graffiti."
According to Collins, Canal Winchester has had some issues with graffiti over the past year but not like this. Bates agreed, saying this investigation is being pursued particularly aggressively due to the nature of the fire scene.
"We've had random, vandalism-type graffiti but what happened here is definitely not the norm for this area," Collins said. "I would think now that the investigators are involved, we may find out more about this. So we aren't labeling it anything other than a crime, yet."
Bower told 10TV News that he hoped the words spray-painted on his garage would not turn into more violence.
Anyone with information regarding this fire can call the sheriff's office at 740-652-7900 or the Madison Township Fire Department at 614-837-7883.