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Fort Ashby Fire UPDATE: man set fire for revenge

March 17th, 2016 by WCBC Radio

A 27-year-old Fort Ashby man admitted to fire investigators that he set fire to a Fort Ashby church “because he wanted to get back at his ex-wife because she attends that church,” according to court documents. The Cumberland Times News reports Caleb Lusk was charged with second-degree arson and jailed at the Potomac Highlands Regional Jail in Augusta on $75,000 bond set by Magistrate Patrick Amoroso.

The arrest was made following on-scene investigation of the fire at the Berean Independent Baptist Church by the West Virginia State Fire Marshal's Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Loudoun County (Va.) Fire Marshal's Office.

ATF investigator William “Buc” Herndon and his accellerent-detecting dog Dolly also assisted in the investigation.

The fire was reported at about 4:15 a.m. Wednesday when two calls were made to the Mineral County 911 Center.

First-arriving units of the Fort Ashby Volunteer Fire Department reported fire through the roof of the 4,000-square-foot church located on Dan's Run Road, about a mile from the intersection of state Routes 28 and 46.

The church was destroyed, resulting in a loss estimated at more than a half-million dollars, church officials said.

According to court documents, Mineral County Sheriff Jeremy Taylor advised fire investigators that he had received a call from a woman who advised that her ex-husband “may have had something to do with the fire.”

Two ATF investigators and the sheriff's office interviewed Lusk, who reportedly admitted to setting the fire and provided details of his involvement.

According to documents filed in Mineral County Magistrate Court, Lusk told investigators that he left his Fort Ashby apartment at about 8 or 9 p.m. Tuesday and drove to an area within a quarter-mile of the church. He said he then walked along a stream to the church parking lot.

Upon arrival at the church, Lusk reportedly observed Styrofoam covering a window. He said he knocked out the material and poured gasoline into the punched hole and into the accessed room that was the church library.

Lusk said he also poured gasoline outside of the window on the ground for a trail that he ignited with a lighter. He said he then left the area the same way that he had accessed the church property.

Evidence was found at the scene that included part of a gasoline can outside the library window. The ATF dog alerted for the presence of flammable liquids outside the window of the church library, according to the documents.

“The delay in the act of pouring of gasoline and the actual fire can be attributed to the initial fire did not catch on as rapidly and did burn some combustible items in the library and they continued to burn until the fire achieved full burn,” a statement from a West Virginia Fire Marshal's Office investigator said.

While initial reports indicated Lusk was charged with first-degree arson, the magistrate's office said that charge only applies to arson of a dwelling. The charge of second-degree arson applies to all other buildings that are not dwellings.

Conviction carries a prison term of one to 10 years, according to the court.

The magistrate's office also issued a temporary domestic violence order earlier in the week, directing Lusk to stay away from his ex-wife. A hearing on that matter is scheduled Friday in Magistrate Court.

In a press release Thursday to the Times-News, West Virginia Assistant State Fire Marshal George A. Harms stated, "This was a multi-agency investigation. It started with the outstanding work from the first arriving fire department (Fort Ashby VFD). The sheriff's department was instrumental in developing leads and conducting interviews, the ATF and Loudoun County’s assistance was invaluable in fire scene work and interviews and, of course, the State Fire Marshal’s office who was the lead investigative element."

The church is reportedly utilizing a second building on the property that was not affected by the fire. Church members gathered there Wednesday night, according to Richard Riley, pastor of the church.

Additionally, a Go Fund Me account has been established to raise funds for the church at www.gofundme.com/FortAshbyFire.

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