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Investigators: House fire may have been set deliberately

Posted at 3:44 PM, Jun 07, 2016

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Fire investigators say they have evidence suggesting a suspicious fire at a Grand Rapids house Monday was set deliberately.

The fire severely damaged the home at the corner of Bradford and Clancy NE on Monday morning.  Residents escaped the three apartments without injury. Investigators say the fire is the third fire in just two weeks at a property owned by the landlord, Ali Erhan.

Erhan, a professor at Aquinas College, owns several properties in Grand Rapids, according to city records.

Grand Rapids Police is assisting the fire department with the investigation.  Investigators say the fire was suspicious largely based on witness accounts, but fire investigators tell FOX 17 they found an accelerant in several areas, which could make this a criminal case.

One witness told FOX 17 Monday she saw a man walking or running from the scene just after the fire started. Other tenants told FOX 17 the landlord had come to the home on Sunday and had an angry confrontation with them.  They say he refuses to make repairs at the house.

FOX 17 made multiple attempts to reach Erhan on Monday, stopping twice at his home.  Late Monday, he responded and said at the advice of his legal counsel, he had no comment.

Tuesday, investigators were still investigating the Clancy fire.  A specially trained K9 picked up on either gasoline or diesel fuel, but the fire department says it is too early to draw any conclusions about the possibility of criminal activity.

Using property records and crime mapping data, FOX 17 found information about one of the other two fires at properties owned by Erhan.  A porch was set on fire late at night, with no apparent source or cause. One witness told FOX 17 that he suspected one of the tenants.

So far, no suspects have been named in any of the cases.