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Officials investigating New Year's Eve fire as possible arson

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By Megan Boatwright
Channel 3 Eyewitness News

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) --  A suspicious fire New Year's Eve leaves a Chattanooga couple homeless.  Fire officials are actively working the case and believe it could be arson.

Larry and Barbara Henderson weren't home when fire broke out.  They were at the hospital.

58-year-old Larry Henderson suffered a heart attack hours before at a New Year's Eve party.

"It was hard for me to see that after all these years of living there," Henderson says.  "I raised all 3 kids there." 

It's nothing more than a series of unfortunate events for Larry Henderson.  "I didn't know what was going on.  I was in the hospital."

It all began New Year's Eve.  Henderson and his wife were at their daughter's home to ring in 2011.

"They came back into the room and I had collapsed," he says.  The retiree suffered a heart attack.  His family rushed him to the hospital.

"They moved me to another area of the hospital, but had to watch me," he says. 

The next day there was more bad news.   "They told me my house burned down," Henderson says.   

Henderson was released from the hospital Monday, his 58th birthday.  He saw what's left of his home for the first time Tuesday.  A neighbor called 911 around 10 p.m. that night.  By the time firefighters arrived, the home was fully engulfed.

"The evidence suggested they needed to bring in a fire investigator," says Bruce Garner with the Chattanooga Fire Department. 

Garner says burn patterns and eyewitness accounts taken so far could suggest arson.  Based on the physical evidence and eyewitness testimony he does believe the cause of the fire is suspicious in nature. 

Investigators continued interviewing witnesses Tuesday.  Henderson says there have been several break-ins on his street in recent months and neighbors agreed.  He and his wife are staying with their daughter, until they figure out what to do next.

"It's hard to have all this happen at once," Henderson says.  "After getting out of the hospital on your birthday, that's bad." 

Larry Henderson and his wife have lived at their 5th Ave. home for 27 years.  The fire department estimated damage at around $40,000.

Fire officials aren't saying if the fire is related to recent break-ins.

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