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Woman upset with boyfriend set bedsheets on fire, igniting blaze that displaced 130 people, officials say

Firefighters battled the blaze at an apartment building in New Carrollton on Sept. 17, 2018.
Firefighters battled the blaze at an apartment building in New Carrollton on Sept. 17, 2018. (Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department)
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A woman who police said was angry with her boyfriend has been charged with starting a multimillion-dollar fire that engulfed a Maryland apartment complex last month, fire officials said.

Natasha Ciara Joyner, 32, of New Carrollton, was charged with arson and malicious burning in the massive blaze that displaced 130 people from the Hilltop Apartments, the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department said in a statement Friday.

Joyner admitted in a written statement that she lit bedsheets with a lighter because she was upset with her then-boyfriend, according to police charging documents.

At a Friday bail review hearing where a Prince George’s County District Court judge ordered her jailed pending trial, Joyner’s attorney said she had been in a tumultuous relationship and had suffered abuse.

She did not intend to cause the damage that was alleged, Joyner’s public defender told the court, where Joyner appeared via teleconference from jail.

The three-alarm fire damaged four apartment buildings and caused about $2.2 million in damage, the fire department said. The fire was reported shortly before 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 17 and was found to have started in a three-story, garden-style apartment in the 5300 block of 85th Avenue in New Carrollton.

Putting out the blaze took firefighters almost two hours.

Firefighters battle three-alarm blaze at New Carrollton apartment building

Prince George’s County Fire spokesman Mark Brady said fire hydrants surrounding the apartment complex did not provide adequate water pressure or volume as firefighters battled the flames. Crews ran hose lines to hydrants about a quarter of a mile away to douse the buildings, Brady said, but by then, “we were playing catch-up.”

Brady said a correction order has been issued to the apartment complex’s management company to fix the hydrants, with a follow-up inspection planned. Until the hydrants have been repaired, the fire department will send additional units for future calls at the apartment complex, Brady said.

A woman who answered the phone listed for the Hilltop Apartments declined to comment Friday.

Joyner’s name was listed on the lease contract for the unit where the fire started, Brady said.

Police charging documents said Joyner initially told investigators that she had left her home that morning, but authorities determined that she was at the scene before and during the fire. She was later interviewed at police headquarters, where she admitted to setting the fire, charging documents state.

Joyner, who also has been charged with malicious destruction of property and reckless endangerment, is in custody at the Prince George’s County jail, the fire department said.

Joyner’s father, Bernie Murphy, said his daughter was going to college and working part time, “doing everything right.” Murphy said he does not understand what behavior might have prompted her alleged actions.

“She was a model kid,” Murphy said after the court appearance. “She met the wrong person.”

Officials said no one was hurt in the fire, but displaced residents still are working on rebuilding their lives and finding new homes after losing their belongings.

On Friday, as authorities announced an arrest, Lindel Schuyler, 33, was on his way to sign a new lease. Schuyler lived next to the apartment where the fire started and said that everything in his apartment was destroyed.

On the day of the fire, Schuyler was on his way from work to pick up his children when his ex-wife called. “‘I think your apartment building is on fire,’” he recalled her saying.

When Schuyler checked the news, he saw his building ablaze.

Schuyler was hopeful something could be salvaged, but authorities told him that his building had been condemned and that the fire had started in the unit adjoining his. “Everything in my apartment was absolutely burned,” Schuyler said.

His two children have been staying with his ex-wife as Schuyler has been bouncing between hotels and the homes of friends and family members. Schuyler said he has had to start from scratch, buying items including clothing and furniture, but is grateful no one was hurt. And he has found a new place to live.

“It was a little rough, but we got through it,” Schuyler said. “I’m looking at it optimistically. It’s a fresh start.”

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