The smell of smoke filled the air, and fire truck strobe lights lit up the street. Fire department and police investigators went door to door talking with residents and sifted through the charred interior of a townhome whose melted vinyl siding hung in shards.
A common sentiment touched conversations between neighbors, onlookers and firefighters gathered on Creekside Court: Here we go again.
""I thought it was over," said Nirav Dhruva, 23, a first-year medical student who lives at 2005 Creekside Court, next door to the unit that caught fire Thursday night. "I really did."
Richmond County Fire Investigator Lt. G.B. Hannan quickly ruled Thursday night's fire at 2007 Creekside Court was intentionally set. It marked the fourth time within five months the townhouse community off Washington Road has been struck by an arsonist, not counting a car fire at a nearby dirt lot several months ago.
The empty unit, wedged among five others - two of which are occupied - sustained damage to its kitchen and rear areas, Lt. Hannan said. He could not say where exactly the fire started but said materials inside were used to ignite it. The department received the call at 8:40 p.m., arrived three minutes later and had the blaze under control within seven minutes, he said.
Despite the history of arson fires in the neighborhood - one of which touched the same unit damaged Thursday - windows and doors to recently rebuilt townhouses had been left open.
On Nov. 19, fires were set within a few hours of each other in vacant townhomes at 2017 and 2011 Creekside Court. Later that night, a fire was ignited in several areas inside 2011 Creekside.
Just 36 hours later, a fire gutted part of a condominium at 2009 Creekside Court that had been damaged during the previous fire. The second floor of 2009 was gutted, and flames had burned through the roof.
On Dec. 7, fire burned through a vacant condominium at 2022 Lillian Drive in a complex a few streets away. That fire burned through the roof and also damaged an adjacent condominium, which was vacant. It sustained minor damage. Authorities ruled that blaze arson.
Mr. Dhruva said he was in his upstairs bedroom Thursday night when he heard smoke alarms beeping. He rushed outside, saw smoke inside the next-door unit, and dialed 911. While on the phone, he knocked on the doors of occupied townhomes.
As firefighters sifted through the damage and police interviewed neighbors, Mr. Dhruva removed baskets of belongings from his home. He said he will stay with a friend for now.
"I've got finals coming up," the medical student said. "I don't need this."
Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225.