Crime & Courts

Arson suspect connected with fires at Gov. McMaster houses charged with another count

Fire that damaged 2 Columbia homes was intentionally set, leaders say

A fire that damaged two homes near the University of South Carolina Tuesday morning is being investigated as arson. Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins and Police Chief Skip Holbrook discuss.
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A fire that damaged two homes near the University of South Carolina Tuesday morning is being investigated as arson. Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins and Police Chief Skip Holbrook discuss.

A man accused of burning two homes owned by Governor Henry McMaster and Peggy McMaster, his wife, has been charged with another count of second-degree arson for a fire at a third home.

Columbia Police Department says that Frank John Wilberding, 21, set a fire at 1828 Greene Street, which is less than a block from the two other fires he’s suspected of starting.

The house is owned by Aluri Rajarathnam, county records show. Rajarathnam owns other properties in the area between the University of South Carolina campus and Five Points.

The flames in the third fire were confined, police said.

Tuesday morning, Columbia Fire Department responded to a two alarm fire near the corner of Greene and Barnwell streets. The fire started at 1716 Greene Street and spread to the home next door. Twelve people were staying in the two homes when the fires occurred, authorities said. They were able to get out without injury.

At a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Holbrook said that authorities discovered the third attempted fire that day. Wilberding tried to start a fire in materials on the back porch of 1828 Greene Street but the fire didn’t take, according to Holbrook.

A surveillance camera caught footage of the fires getting started at McMaster’s properties. That footage helped lead to Wilberding’s arrest, Holbrook said. A person called Crimestoppers and tipped police off to Wilberding’s identity after police released the video.

The suspect was seen near the crime scene and detained Tuesday around noon. Police questioned him and charged him with two counts of second-degree arson later that day. When police detained Wilberding he had Xanax on him, authorities said. He was charged with possession of a controlled substance.

Wilberding now faces three counts of arson. He is held at Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center and will have a bond hearing Thursday.

Second-degree arson carries a minimum sentence of three years in prison and a maximum of 25 years.

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