Resident charged with arson after 3-alarm fire at Suffolk Tower Apartments; 5 rescued, 32 displaced


SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Five people were rescued from a three-alarm fire that started on the fifth floor of the Suffolk Tower Apartments in Suffolk on Tuesday morning.

One of those people rescued, a resident on the fifth floor, has been charged with arson. Police identified him as 69-year-old Herbert Macarery Boothe and said more charges are expected. He was taken to the hospital.

Boothe was booked at Western Tidewater Regional Jail on July 16.

Herbert Macarery Boothe. Photo courtesy: Western Tidewater Regional Jail

Emergency communications say they were notified just after 4 a.m. of the fire in the 180 block of North Main Street. Officials say five people in total were rescued from the structure. Two people were taken to the hospital for further treatment. One firefighter had minor injuries.

Kevin Henly lives on the fifth floor.

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“All I felt was heat and I couldn’t see. I couldn’t see outside into the hallway. I felt the firefighters grab me and rush me downstairs and out the building. When I got outside the building, I realized there’s a fire in the building, all the trucks and stuff,” Henly said.

The fire was marked under control around 5 a.m. and out about an hour later.

10 On Your Side caught up with Sherley Donaldson, who also lives on the fifth floor. She says she feels sad for Boothe despite what he’s accused of.

“Yes, he seemed nice… Yes, very surprised,” said Donaldson.

Building officials say the apartment building includes 50 occupied units and a total of 118 individuals. About 40 people are being temporarily housed in local hotels. A temporary shelter was also being provided by Main Street United Methodist Church at 202 North Main Street.

Those individuals are expected to return on Thursday morning.

There was some good news to be found in the form of community support across the street.

The property manager of Main Street United Methodist Church saw the victims baking in the heat after leaving the building, so he called his pastor.

Within minutes, he says they were in the church in a cool space.

“What we have here is for the community and we try to make it available for our community in many ways,” said Pastor Richard Meiser.

Tuesday’s fire comes just two weeks after a major water leak forced evacuations at the apartments.

Suffolk Fire Marshal, Battalion Chief Chris Cornwell, says they are working alongside property management officials to ensure that the fire alarm system at the building has been fully restored. They are also working together to ensure that smoke detectors are properly installed in each apartment unit. 

In 2014, more than 60 people were displaced after a fire at the same Suffolk apartment complex. And in January 2017, a 52-year-old man was arrested on arson charges after an overnight fire.

The investigation is ongoing.

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