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Fire at Marshall football stadium ruled arson

Herald-Dispatch photo by Lori Wolfe An investigation is underway after 2 sets of portable restrooms were destroyed by fire late Sunday at Marshall University's Joan C. Edwards Stadium and Dot Hicks Field.
Herald-Dispatch photo by Lori Wolfe
An investigation is underway after 2 sets of portable restrooms were destroyed by fire late Sunday at Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards Stadium and Dot Hicks Field.

HUNTINGTON — A Sunday night fire that damaged electrical wiring at Joan C. Edwards Stadium has been ruled arson by the West Virginia Fire Marshal’s office, and a $5,000 reward has been offered for helping catch the offender.

Huntington Fire Chief Carl Eastham said crews responded to Marshall University’s athletic facility quickly after receiving reports of the flames at 11:50 p.m. Sunday, and a business owner said several of his portable restroom and handwashing stations were set on fire. Flames from the plastic units, placed against a fence outside the stadium, spread up a light tower.

Once officials with American Electric Power shut off the electricity running to the pole, an aerial ladder truck and a pumper truck were used to extinguish the blaze in the northeast corner of the stadium. On Monday morning, melted green plastic could be seen surrounding the fence, as well as charred wires and burn marks on the concrete.

 “The ruling is arson and it is under investigation,” said Tim Chastain, an investigator with the state Fire Marshal’s office. “The fire marshal’s office and MUPD (Marshall University Police Department) will be the lead law enforcement agencies on the criminal investigation.”

Scott Morehouse, associate director of athletics for game operations and facilities, said there is potential that the damage caused to electrical wiring could affect the 5:30 p.m. start time for Saturday’s home football game with Charlotte if there is considerable damage to the functionality of the stadium’s lights.

On Monday afternoon, Morehouse met with officials from Potesta and Associates, an external engineering group from Charleston, to ensure the light pole was still structurally sound. Engineers were gathering information from the site of the blaze and reviewing drawings to make their determination.

Electricians could not go up to evaluate the severity of the damage or the impact it will have on Saturday’s kickoff until the engineering team issued the OK.

“We don’t know yet,” Morehouse said. “It’s still early.”

Chastain said that the State Fire Marshal’s office is offering a $5,000 reward to those with information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the arson, which is considered a felony.

A second fire was set Sunday night outside of Dot Hicks Field, Marshall’s softball complex, which sits across from the east side of Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

“We have two separate fires,” Marshall University Police Chief Jim Terry said. “We believe they are both related, so if anybody has any information – cellphone video, photos – please contact us so they can get it to us.”

Terry said investigators are reviewing security footage from cameras on the exterior of the stadium and surrounding facilities.

Chastain placed initial damage estimates in the thousands of dollars range, not including additional costs that could arise once cellular companies can check their wiring.

“NTelos (Sprint) has to have an engineer come in and check all their wiring and all that, but as far as the structural stability of the tower, it’s all good,” Chastain said.

 Chuck Corns, owner of Rent-A-Kann portable restrooms, said that his company lost four units and two of its handwashing stations in the fire.

Corns said his company has had the contract with Marshall to provide portable restrooms for five years now and provides nearly 35 portable units for game-day use.

He estimated that the portable units that were set on fire cost a total of $3,200 to $3,500.

Corns said that he was hoping a camera angle on a surrounding structure would catch whoever was responsible for the damage.

“The two over at the softball field likely confirm that it was some sort of vandal,” Corns said. “If it was just isolated to that pole, then it would be hard to say vandal, but it wasn’t. Hopefully, those cameras come up with the answer.”

Due to the fire, American Electric Power had to shut off electricity in the area for several hours.

As the Monday work day started, power was off at Marshall Sports Medicine Institute, which forced scheduled appointments with Marshall Orthopedics and Cabell Huntington Hospital at the location to be canceled in the morning hours.

Power was restored to Marshall Sports Medicine Institute, the Chris Cline Athletic Complex and the Shewey Building, which houses Marshall’s football offices, at about 11:30 a.m. Monday.

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