Mother charged with murder after death of 6-year-old in 2020 house fire

Published: Jul. 4, 2022 at 12:46 PM MDT
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UNION, S.C. (WHNS/Gray News) - A mother is facing charges in the death of her 6-year-old daughter after she set her house on fire in 2020, according to police in South Carolina.

Police said officers were dispatched to the home in Union for a house fire with possible entrapment on November 25, 2020, at about 5:40 p.m.

When they arrived, officers found the house engulfed, with flames already coming from the windows and front door.

One burn victim, the child’s grandmother Barbara Newton, was outside the home, police said.

WHNS reported that the 6-year-old girl was still inside the home.

Caeli Ratcliffe, 6, was asleep inside the house when the fire started.
Caeli Ratcliffe, 6, was asleep inside the house when the fire started.(Family photos)

Police said 32-year-old Carlene Ratcliffe set fire to her own home and left the house as her child was asleep inside.

Newton was out shopping at the time of the fire and saw the fire once she returned home, according to WHNS. She tried to run inside to rescue the girl but was unsuccessful. Newton sustained serious burns to about half of her body as a result and was flown to the Augusta Burn Center for treatment.

The heat radiating from the house made it difficult for firefighters and officers to enter the home, and two of them sustained burn injuries during the attempts.

One officer suffered a burn to his left hand, and a firefighter suffered a burn to his back and shoulders. Both were treated at the scene.

Caeli Ratcliffe and her grandmother Barbara Newton.
Caeli Ratcliffe and her grandmother Barbara Newton.(Family photos)

Once the fire was put out, the 6-year-old girl was found dead in the home and identified as Caeli Ratcliffe.

According to the medical examiner, Caeli died as a result of smoke and soot inhalation.

After a long investigation, Ratcliffe was charged with two counts of arson and one count of homicide by child abuse and one count of murder.

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