Official: Suspect admits setting Pointe Coupee fires

The 19-year-old man arrested in a string of house fires in several neighborhoods along La. 10 this week has admitted to setting all six fires and as many as a dozen more in the New Roads area, an official with the State Fire Marshal’s Office said Thursday.

Nicholas Powell, 1314 Richey St., was arrested without incident Wednesday afternoon and booked into Pointe Coupee Parish jail on two counts of aggravated arson. He is being held without bond and faces additional charges, said Brant Thompson, deputy chief with the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Thompson said Powell admitted to setting the string fires Tuesday and early Wednesday and disclosed that he had set as many as a dozen more over a longer period of time in the New Roads area. Thompson did not say if Powell had given any motive for setting the fires.

“We’re charting the locations where he had either lived or visited inside and outside the New Roads community,” Thompson said.

Sheriff Bud Torres at a press conference late Wednesday attributed Powell’s quick arrest to anonymous tips from residents in the community where the fires took place.

Torres said Powell, who lives less than a mile from where all the fires occurred, had no previous history of arson. Torres said his department will be reviewing previous fires over the past several months to determine if Powell might be connected to them as well.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office launched an investigation into seven fires Wednesday morning — one of which was later determined to be accidental and not arson — shortly after parish firefighters were able to extinguish the blazes.

Authorities said five of the seven structures were abandoned homes or trailers and only two were occupied dwellings. No injuries were reported in any of the fires.

The first fire targeted in the investigation came around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at a residential house at 8665 Dolth St. Firefighters also responded to a second fire Tuesday around 10:36 p.m. in the 800 block of Lindsly Street.

State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said investigators do not suspect arson was involved in the first fire on Dolth Street.

Wednesday’s round of fires started at 5:08 a.m. at a vacant house at 12348 Clay St.

Lester Dobard said she called 911 after she was jolted out of her sleep by what she thought was a gunshot.

“But it wasn’t really a gunshot, it was a house burning,” she said. “By the time I got outside, (the house) was just up in flames. That house has been empty ever since I moved into this neighborhood six years ago.”

Before firefighters arrived, the fire had spread, igniting a house next door where two adults and three children were asleep inside.

Dobard said neighbors helped the family living in 12362 Clay St. evacuate the house before New Roads firefighters arrived and began battling the blazes.

Around 5:25 a.m. Wednesday, firefighters from across Pointe Coupee Parish were called to respond to two more fires at abandoned homes located in the 8000 block of St. Peters Street. The last fire Wednesday happened at 5:58 a.m. at an abandoned home at 703 Poydras St.

Dobard said Wednesday afternoon the string of fires worried her, especially since she doesn’t recall seeing anyone suspicious in the area recently.

“I pray all of this is just a coincidence,” Dobard said Wednesday. “Yesterday it didn’t bother me, but today, this bothers me. I’m worried. I have a child, and now I don’t want her to be at home by herself.”

Torres said he has beefed up police presence in the area until the investigation concludes.

Browning said state investigators will remain in New Roads as the investigation continues.

“They’ll be working the street tonight, into tomorrow to clear this completely,” Browning said Wednesday night. “We do not tolerate people setting fires. This is really a midpoint in the investigation.”