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Arson suspected in fires at two homes linked to shooting death

Authorities are investigating fires that took place at two McDuffie County homes over the past week. According to McDuffie County Assistant Fire Chief Stephen Sewell, arson is suspected in both.

The first fire occurred around Dec. 3 at the Wrens Highway home of Michael Johnson, the man accused in the Thanksgiving eve shooting death of Todd Brooks. The second took place on Dec. 10 at the home of Rebecca Heacock, a key witness to the shooting.

Assistant Chief Sewell said someone poured a combustible liquid that has an odor consistent with gasoline on the ground near the carport end of the Heacock family's Surrey Road home and lit it on fire. He said an area of leaves and pine straw about six by 15 feet was burned.

Someone was at home at the time, but no one was injured. The house did not catch fire, but there was some slight damage to the carport overhang.

The fire was extinguished with a garden hose at the home. Firefighters also found a container of what appears to be gasoline at the scene of the fire.

"I don't think, and this is just my opinion...that they were trying to burn the house down. They would have set it completely different if they had been," Assistant Chief Sewell said.

At the Wrens Highway home, family members found the results of the fire after it had burned itself out and called authorities to investigate. Assistant Chief Sewell said his department had collected samples to assist in that investigation as well.

Authorities are asking anyone with information on the fires to contact the McDuffie County Fire Department, 706-595-2145, the Georgia Arson Control Hotline, 1-800-282-5804, or the McDuffie County Sheriff's Department, 706-595-2040.

Assistant Chief Sewell said there is a possible reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of someone responsible for arson. The state Fire Marshall's Office was on the scene Tuesday to assist in the investigation.

Web posted on Thursday, December 14, 2006

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