The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Fire at Bill Clinton’s childhood home being investigated as arson

Authorities say a fire that caused minor damage to former president Bill Clinton’s first childhood home in Hope, Ark., may have been arson.

Hope Police Department Chief J.R. Wilson said a motorist spotted flames early Friday at the Clinton Birthplace National Historic Site. Wilson said that when firefighters arrived a short time later, flames were shooting 8 feet into the air on one side of the structure, a two-story white frame house.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that the fire was quickly extinguished and only one interior room was damaged by flames. Wilson said there was graffiti found at the scene, with footage from the scene showing a large painted frown with a protruding tongue on the exterior of a door leading to the inside of the home.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, with arson suspected in part because of a smell of accelerant at the scene. “It looks like that [the fire] was started intentionally at this time," Hope Fire Department Chief Dale Glanton told Shreveport, La., station KSLA. "So it will be investigated and handled as a potential arson fire."

CNN reported that officials were gathering video from surveillance cameras, with the National Park Service investigating. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms also planned to send a fire investigator, said the network, and the FBI offered to assist in the probe. The home, which also suffered smoke and water damage during the blaze, will be closed until the investigation is complete.

Clinton lived in the home for the first four years of his life, and visited frequently before his family moved to Hot Springs, Ark., when he was 7, after his grandfather Eldridge Cassidy passed away. The house was designated as a National Historic Site in 2011.

"It has been restored before, and it will be restored again," Skip Rutherford, dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and a friend of Clinton’s for more than four decades, told CNN. "If Bill Clinton was the comeback kid, then the Clinton birthplace is the comeback house."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.