ELKHART — A South Bend man is accused of setting an apartment fire that displaced three families in March.
Renell Wade, 28, is charged with arson in connection with the March 28 fire at Town and Country Apartments, 1205 Georgia Blvd. He allegedly poured gasoline all over a woman’s apartment before setting it alight, and the fire spread to adjoining apartments in the building.
The Level 4 felony is punishable by up to 12 years in prison.
Wade was booked in the Elkhart County Correctional Facility on $300,000 bond. His initial court hearing was set for Friday.
Late night blaze
Elkhart police and fire personnel arrived at the complex in northwest Elkhart around 10:37 p.m. and saw flames coming from the front window of a first floor apartment. The occupants were home at the time of the fire but were able to evacuate before first responders arrived.
Firefighters entered the apartment through the front door and quickly extinguished the fire in the living room before moving to the second floor, where they found high heat but no fire. They then pulled down some of the ceiling and found a large fire in the attic, which they also quickly extinguished.
In total, the occupants of three apartments were forced to leave.
The woman who lived at the ground floor apartment told police that Wade showed up intoxicated and argumentative, court documents show. She said she told him to leave but he refused and instead went downstairs, where he found a root beer bottle full of a mixture of cola and gas.
The mix was from a previous incident when Wade poured cola in the gas tank of the woman’s vehicle out of anger, according to the occupant. She said he later apologized and removed the tainted fuel in an attempt to make amends.
The woman said she watched as Wade poured the mixture throughout her apartment, including on the furniture and in the kitchen. She tried to stop him but he continued to pour the flammable liquid, then stood in front of her and ignited it with some kind of lighter.
Wade left the apartment with the woman and her nine-year-old daughter inside as the building started the burn.
A neighbor told police she saw Wade arrive, appearing intoxicated, and heard the couple arguing. She said she could hear the woman screaming at Wade, asking him not to set her or her apartment on fire.
The neighbor said she ran out of her apartment and saw the inside of the other woman’s apartment on fire. She saw Wade fleeing in his vehicle and almost colliding with other residents as they tried to stop him.
The neighbor was able to pick Wade out of a photo lineup as the man she saw arrive and flee before and after the fire.