Authorities in Hope, Arkansas confirmed late on Friday that former President Bill Clinton’s childhood home had been damaged in a fire, which might have been started intentionally. The house itself sustained minimal structural disturbance and no one was inside at the time of the incident. According to USA Today, which spoke with Hope Police Chief J.R. Wilson, the fire was first reported early Friday morning around 3:17 a.m. after a passing motorist noticed smoke coming from somewhere in the structure and alerted local law enforcement.
Police told reporters that they suspected arson after noticing that the William J. Clinton Birthplace, which was designated a historic landmark by the National Parks Service in 2011, had been defaced and smelled of gasoline.
“We suspect arson, because of the point of origin,” Wilson told USA Today. “Also, there was strong smell of accelerant at the point of the origin of what appeared ... to smell like gasoline.” He added that authorities at the scene had discovered a black "55" spray-painted across the walkway and graffiti of a frowny face with its tongue sticking out on one of the doors.
“The building is in good shape ... the fire department extinguished the fire very quickly,” Wilson added in a statement to CNN reporters Friday, noting that the flames had only managed to climb about eight feet up on one of the exterior walls before authorities put it out.
As of Saturday morning, authorities were unable to confirm any possible suspects or motive, although Wilson explained that “with the graffiti that was drawn and how the arson occurred”, the fire was likely the work of “a juvenile or juveniles.”
The fire comes on the heels of news that Clinton will be joining his wife and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail starting in January. Up until now, the party frontrunner has kept her husband out of the spotlight, seemingly to focus on establishing a fresh voice and presence in the short field of candidates — something that’s proven difficult with the rise of second-place candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist whose supporter base is largely made up of enthusiastic, young, and progressive liberals.
“I think this is fair to say that starting in January, I will have my not so secret weapon,” Hillary told supporters at a campaign event in Manchester, New Hampshire last week. “We’re going to cover as much ground as we possibly can.”
Clinton has come out in strong support of his wife’s campaign, telling the large crowd at the local tavern that he was confident that wife Hillary was the best person for the White House. “I’ve noticed that most successful presidents are those that get elected in a time where they are suited to govern and she’s the best qualified person for the time at the moment that I’ve ever seen,” said Clinton according to KMBZ. “I do look forward to coming back.”
The move is a serious shift in a new direction. During Hillary’s initial presidential run in 2008, her husband was seen as something of a detractor, famously doing more harm than good after he declared in a passing comment to reporters that Hillary’s then-rival Barack Obama had only won South Carolina in the Democratic primary because of the state’s large black population.
So far there’s been plenty of frenzy over the news, with certain GOP camps trotting out old skeletons meant to embarrass the Democratic frontrunner. This past week alone, CNN’s Don Lemon and conservative commentator Kurt Schlichter stirred up tensions even further when the anchor abruptly ended an interview in which Schlichter had been railing about Clinton’s 1998 affair with intern Monica Lewinsky, suggesting that wife Hillary had “enabled” his bad behavior and calling Clinton a “serial sexual abuser.”
In Arkansas on Friday, there was no indication that the fire at the former president's home had been the work of similarly aggravated voters or a protest of any sort. However, with Clinton due to hit the road in a few days, it’s likely the incident has prompted the former Secretary's staff to keep an even closer eye on the news than ever.