Old company houses are privately owned in Widen,
once a prosperous mining town of 2,500 (Hur Herald Photo)

Houses were all painted red and white and once rented for $4-$6,
at least 500 houses standing in 1925 (Hur Herald Photo)

Fires of unknown origin struck the former coal boomtown of Widen in Clay County early yesterday morning.

Three vacant houses, two outbuildings and a garage were destroyed by a fire that broke out at about 3:30 a.m.

Heat from the fire melted the siding of four other houses, firemen said.

The state fire marshal's office said there have been 15 fires in the area since July, 2003.

Clay County has experienced a rash of fires, often camps, during the past two or three years, many have reportedly been arson.

Reports said the local Widen Volunteer Fire Department is no longer in business, and the Birch River VFD responded to the remote town, whose access is down the mountain off Widen Ridge.

The fire department said no one was injured in any of the fires, indicating at least one blaze has been ruled arson, but all are considered suspicious.

Most of the fires are what investigators call "total burnouts," meaning that if an accelerant was used, it was totally consumed by the fire -- leaving behind no evidence.