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Mother Charged With Murder in Death of Child in Fire in November 2020

Caeli Ratcliffe was killed in a fire at her home in November 2020

Daniel Prince

Carlene Julie Ann Ratcliffe faces multiple charges after 18-month investigation wraps up

The mother of a six-year-old girl killed in a house fire in November 2020 is now in jail charged with her daughter’s death.

The charges come as an 18-month investigation by Union Public Safety, SLED’s Arson and Child Fatality units, State Fire Marshall’s Office, and the ATF came to an end. The agencies conducted an extensive forensic investigation resulting in the arrest of 32-year-old Carlene Julie Ann Ratcliffe. Ratcliffe faces one count of murder, one count of homicide by child abuse, and two counts of first-degree arson, one for each victim.

The fire was reported at 207 Second Avenue in the City of Union at around 5:40 p.m. on November 25, 2020. When units arrived on scene, the house was fully involved, with fire coming from the windows and front door. A burn victim was outside the residence being treated by onlookers before EMS arrived. People in the crowd told officers and firefighters that a child was still trapped in the structure, possibly in the front right room on the left side of the house. Sgt. Dell Mitchell ran to that window and banged on it with his flashlight to try and get a response from anyone inside. Mitchell could not see into the window due to heavy smoke and the window being above his head. Firefighters Jake Wilburn and Christian Patterson attempted to enter the structure at the front door, but the heat was so intense that Wilburn’s turnout gear caught fire. He came out, having suffered a burn to his back and shoulders, and was treated on the scene. Patterson was joined by Kayla Garrett to try and enter, but the heat was still too intense, so they went around to the left side of the house to fight the fire. At some point, Patterson suffered a burn to his left hand and was treated at the scene.

People in the crowd stated the child was possibly on a couch on the left side of the house, and some again said she could be in the front right room. Sgt. Mitchell handed firefighters a Halligan tool for forceful entry, but they weren’t able to enter the door. The child, identified as 6-year-old Caeli Ratcliffe, was later found deceased.

According to the arrest warrants, Ratcliffe put her 6-year-old daughter in her bed while she was asleep. She then set fire to the house and left without seeking help for her daughter. An autopsy showed that the girl died of smoke and soot inhalation.

The child’s grandmother was flown to the Augusta Burn Center. According to one of the arson warrants, the woman had gone shopping for groceries and came back to find the house in flames. She entered the house to try and rescue the girl, but she received severe burns. She was treated in the Critical Care Unit of Doctor’s Hospital in Augusta, where she was in a medically induced coma for an extended period of time while she recovered. She received second- and third-degree burns to around 51% of her body.

Bond has been denied in the case, and Ratcliffe is in the Union County Detention Center.

In an emotional gathering in June 2021, Foster Park Elementary School Resource Officer Dell Mitchell presented every student at Foster Park with a smoke detector in memory of Caeli Ratcliffe, the girl who died in the fire. Paradise Home Center sold the smoke detectors at a discounted rate, and numerous businesses and organizations donated money toward them. A plaque was placed in the entrance to the school in Caeli’s memory, and a page in the yearbook was dedicated to her, as well.

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