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LionsGate Fire Suspect Sought

After nearly three years, suspect in fire named nine months after being deported.

Fire investigators have issued an arrest warrant in the fire that roared through the nearly finished LionsGate townhouse in 2001, destroying 57 units. Much to the chagrin of investigators, the suspect, Jose O. Lemus, 44, of no fixed address, was deported to his native Honduras nine months ago on an unrelated felony case, said Lt. Raul G. Castillo, a Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department public information officer.

The arrest warrant charges are in connection with the four-alarm fire in the Herndon area of Fairfax County July 17, 2001. The fire injured two firefighters and caused damages totaling $7.5 million, according to fire officials.

At the time of the fire, the 216 rental unit and eight building site was under construction. Between 100 and 120 fire and rescue, and police personnel from as far away as McLean and Annandale were dispatched to the scene. Flames lit up the night sky from Herndon to Leesburg as the fire broke out around 9 p.m. Nearby Herndon Woods and Fairfax Lane were evacuated because of the intensity of the fire.

The fire investigators had enough probable cause to issue a felony warrant, Castillo said. Investigators charged Lemus on Thursday, June 5, with a Class 6 felony for setting a fire capable of spreading and a Class 4 felony for burning or destroying property valued over $200. Investigators declined to elaborate on their evidence, whether the suspect acted alone or a possible motive for Lemus.

Class 6 felonies can carry a term of imprisonment of no less than one year or more than five years, and a fine of not more than $2,500. Class 4 felonies can convey a jail term of two to 10 years, and a fine of not more than $100,000.

Fire officials have closed the case, Castillo said, and turned it over to the Commonwealth of Virginia. The United States does not have an extradition treaty with Honduras. "If he steps on U.S. soil and is caught, the Commonwealth of Virginia will reopen the case," Castillo said.