UPDATE: Firefighter suspended amid fatal arson investigation

The firefighter, called a "person of interest," has refused to speak with investigators; suspended by City Manager Teresa Wilson

A Columbia firefighter labeled as a “person of interest” in a fatal Columbia fire investigation has been suspended without pay, City Manager Teresa Wilson announced late Saturday.

A Columbia firefighter, pictured here in surveillance footage, is refusing to talk to with investigators probing a fatal January 29 fire in Columbia. The unnamed firefighter, labeled a “person of interest” in the case, has been suspended without pay. (Photo provided)

The firefighter, whose name was not made public, was pictured in surveillance footage prior to the fire at the Plantation Court Apartments on South Saluda Avenue on January 29.

The blaze, which investigators have determined was set intentionally, killed 80-year-old True Dent Henderson, who succumbed to smoke inhalation, according to Richland County Coroner Gary Watts.

The apartment complex also experienced another fire last December, and other fires have been reported in recent months in surrounding neighborhoods, though investigators have yet to say whether any of them are directly linked.

Columbia fire department and police officials said the firefighter has not been named a suspect at this point, but wanted to question him about what he might have witnessed. The firefighter, however, has so far refused to speak with investigators and has asked for an attorney.

In her statement announcing the firefighter’s suspension, Wilson said:

“At this time, I have issued a directive to suspend the Columbia firefighter who has been identified as a person of interest in the ongoing arson investigation that is being conducted by the Columbia Police Department and SLED.

“This action will be effective immediately and the firefighter will be placed on investigatory suspension without pay until further notice.

“This decision was made after conferring with officials with the Columbia Police Department. Due to the fact that the firefighter has not complied or cooperated with the Columbia Police Department, I made the decision to suspend the employee from active service with the City of Columbia.

“It is in the best interest of the city and our citizens for the employee in question to be relieved of his duties until the ongoing arson investigation has been closed.

“Chief Aubrey D. Jenkins is in full support of this decision, however I have personally issued the directive for the employee to be suspended in order to maintain an appropriate distance between the Columbia Fire Department and the ongoing investigative process.”

Check back for continuing updates

Initial post below:

Columbia Police are looking for a man and want to question him about an apartment fire in which an 80-year-old woman died last week.

An unidentified man seen in surveillance photos is a person of interest, according to police.

Police want to question the man to determine if he has any information about the January 29 fire at Plantation Court Apartments on South Saluda Avenue, in Rosewood.

The fire is believed to be intentionally set, according to authorities.