Firefighters were battling flames up to eight feet high at the Clinton Birthplace National Historic Site in Hope. A motorist noticed the flames licking around the Arkansas residence shortly before 3am on Christmas Day, according to police.
The fire seems to have started at the base of an outside wall. The smell at the house indicated that an accelerant could have been used, said Hope Police Department Chief J.R. Wilson. Firefighters put out the fire "very quickly" and the building is "still in good shape", Wilson added.
The home's superintendent Tarona Armstrong said in a statement that the blaze was confined to one part of the house and spread through the second floor, causing smoke and water damage inside. However, the extent of the damage and the cause are still "unknown". The house was also vandalised with spray-painted graffiti, according to CNN.
Hope Fire Department Chief Dale Glanton said his department will investigate the incident as arson, rather than an accident. "There's just evidence and signs that we do believe it was intentionally set. It will be investigated and handled as a potential arson fire," Glanton told KSLA-TV.
The house belonged to Clinton's grandparents and he lived there for the first four years of his life in the late 1940s, before moving to Hot Springs, Arkansas. It is operated and maintained by the National Parks Service.
"This is a very important structure and house inside the city of Hope," said Glanton. "It's got a lot of historical value to it."
Clinton dedicated the home as a historic site in 1999. "In this house, I learned to walk and talk, I learned to pray, I learned to read and I learned to count by number cards my grandparents tacked on the kitchen window," he said. The house has been closed to visitors until further notice.