Firefighter Charged with Setting Fire to Abandoned Building

WOODSTOCK, Va. (AP) — A Virginia volunteer firefighter charged with setting fire to an abandoned building was with the first crew to arrive on the scene, an investigator said Monday.

Firefighters from several departments responded to a report of a structure fire Friday night in Woodstock and found the 1902 multistory wood-frame building fully engulfed, the Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue said in a news release. Crews reported the fire under control about four hours later.

Assistant Fire Marshal Joe Loving said investigators retrieved surveillance video of a man in front of the building about 30 minutes before the fire was reported and his “very distinct” clothing led them to a suspect, WHSV-TV reported.

Investigators noted that Ray Kerns, a member of the Woodstock Fire Department, was wearing matching clothing, officials said. Loving said Monday that Kerns was with the first crew to arrive on the scene, The Northern Virginia Daily reported.

Kerns confessed to starting the fire and gave investigators information about the fire that only the person who started it would know, Loving said. Kerns was arrested and charged with burning or destroying any other building and intentionally destroying, defacing or damaging a building, both felonies. The Woodstock Fire Department released a statement saying Kerns has been suspended.

Kerns, 36, of Toms Brook appeared Monday in Shenandoah County General District Court and was denied bond. Online court records note that Kerns is represented by a public defender, however Winchester Public Defender Timothy Coyne declined to comment.

“The next step in the investigation will be to determine if there’s any other parties involved, if he acted alone, if there are other incidents that are unsolved related and, you know, obviously we’re working in conjunction with Woodstock (Police Department) in the ongoing investigation related to that building,” Loving said.

The building that was destroyed is owned by Lena Frances Keegan, officials said. Keegan is the subject of a missing person investigation that began last year and law enforcement had searched that property and two others in June, the newspaper reported. Loving said he couldn’t comment on whether or not the fire is connected to the missing person case.

Copyright 2022 by the Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.

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