A homeless man has been charged with setting the Dec. 26 fire that damaged the White Elk Motel in Elkridge, a blaze police say started because of a domestic dispute.

Barry Lee Murphy, 48, of no fixed address, has been charged with one count each of first-degree arson, malicious destruction of property and second-degree burglary, among other charges, according to the Howard County Police Department.

Police had been investigating an earlier incident at the motel allegedly involving Murphy when the fire broke out.

Officers had arrived at the motel in the 6100 block of Washington Boulevard at about 8:45 p.m. A motel employee told police that Murphy had been banned from the property but had gone to a room where a female acquaintance of his had been staying, police said.


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An officer soon saw smoke coming from the second-floor room. More than 60 firefighters needed about 15 minutes to bring the flames under control. The estimated amount of damage has not yet been determined. There were no injuries.

Police believe Murphy went to the room to take some of the acquaintance's items, then set a fire and left. Nobody else was in the room at the time.

Police said Murphy had assaulted the woman earlier that day. Officers found Murphy in "a wooded area he was known to frequent" and arrested him; he has been charged with one count of second-degree assault, police said.

Murphy is being held at the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup.