Official: Fire that injured police officer was intentionally set

Officer suffers smoke inhalation at house fire (Reporter: Amanda Brannon)

GREENVILLE, PITT COUNTY - Investigators said a Friday morning house fire that injured a police officer was no accident.

The fire erupted at an abandoned house on the 700-block of W. 5th Street in Greenville. Crews said they got the call at about 10:30 a.m. and spent several hours putting the blaze out.

Fire investigators said the fire was intentionally set, but did not explain further. No arrests have been made in the case, which was turned over to the Greenville Police Department.

Greenville Police Officer Christopher Drueschle suffered smoke inhalation when he checked the home to see if anyone was inside. That officer was taken to the hospital, but has since been released and is doing okay, according to Sgt. Joe Friday, with the Greenville Police Department.

There were flames that burned the abandoned house from the first level all the way up to the attic, fire crews said. They said they spent hours dousing the fire with water, spraying from all angles.

"All we saw was smoke at first, but then all of a sudden it just burst into flames," said Jerrod Baker, who lives across the street from the scene. "It's crazy! The fire keep going out and then it starts back up. I keep thinking it's over and it's not. I thought they were going to be able to save the house."

Greenville Fire and Rescue's battalion chief, Shannon Terry, said the home has been empty since 2007 and there's no power hooked up. However, Greenville Utilities kept an eye on the power lines to make sure no one was in danger of getting hurt.          

"Obviously, as high as the flames were getting, that's considered an exposure so we wanted to make sure the power was out in case a tree, or debris, or anything came in contact with the power lines," Terry said.

Terry said no one was believed to have been in the house at the time of the fire. But neighbors said a homeless man had been living there.

"This house has been here for a while. I've been seeing a lot of people go up there lately, but I didn't think nobody would burn it down," said Brandon Spell, who lives nearby.

Fire crews said the area reopened to traffic at about 5 p.m. Friday night, nearly seven hours after the fire broke out.

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