Woman charged with arson in historic house fire

September 05, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

WILLIAMSPORT - An 18-year-old Clear Spring woman has been charged with second-degree arson in a fire that damaged the former home of the founder of the town of Williamsport.

Lauren A. France was taken into custody Sunday at her home, according to a press release from the Maryland State fire marshal's office.

France, the daughter of the last tenant of the house, is charged with setting fire to the historic building Aug. 30. The blaze caused an estimated $150,000 in damages.

France was taken before a Washington County District Court commissioner and released on $80,000 bond.

"I give a lot of credit to (Deputy State Fire Marshal) Ed Ernst for his relentless investigation of this fire," Williamsport Mayor James G. McCleaf II said Monday afternoon. "He did a great job."


The house at 6 Springfield Lane is owned by the town and once belonged to Otho Holland Williams. In the press release, France was identified as having once lived in the home and having been evicted.

For years, the building - a tenant house when the property was part of Springfield Farm - was considered an eyesore. In 2001, the town agreed to have Patricia France live there rent-free for 10 years, if she invested $50,000 in labor and materials.

Four years later, the town forced her to move out after a zoning enforcement memo reported that most of the promised improvements were incomplete or never done. After a battle that lasted several months and included a hearing in Washington County District Court, Patricia France and her family moved out.

The one-alarm blaze was reported at 1:43 a.m., and the fire was brought under control in about an hour with the efforts of about 50 volunteer firefighters.

Staff writer Andrew Schotz contributed to this story.

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