- The Washington Times - Friday, June 8, 2001

Someone deliberately set an early-morning fire yesterday in Seat Pleasant that killed four persons and injured seven others, including a firefighter, Prince Georges County fire officials said.

The 4 a.m. house blaze in the 6200 block of Foote Street is being investigated as an arson by the Prince George´s County Police Department. Numerous people were taken from the scene and detained for questioning, but police have no suspects at this time, said Cpl. Robert Clark.

"We don´t know how many people were in the house. We estimate that as many as 10 people could have been in the home at the time of the fire," Cpl. Clark said, adding that most of the victims were family members and others were visitors.

"After talking to numerous witnesses, it is possible that some form of altercation may have occurred prior to the fire being set," he said.

Prince George´s County firefighters who responded were able to put out the blaze quickly, in "about 10-15 minutes," said Cpl. Clark.

In the initial walk-through after the fire was extinguished, fire department officials found three bodies in the basement of the home, all deceased.

"We later found a fourth body in the basement and we believe that is where the fire started," said Mark Brady, fire department spokesman.

Of the seven injured, three were taken to Washington Hospital Center in the District, including a 33-year-old firefighter who was injured while attempting to help people escape from the house. Ronald "R.B." Brown, 42, and Edgar Sumpter, 39, who both live in the Foote Street house, were critically injured.

Mr. Brady said the firefighter who "sustained first- and second-degree burns to his hands and shoulders" was treated and later released.

Four other injured persons were taken to Prince George´s Community Hospital, where they were treated for burns and smoke inhalation. All four were still hospitalized and under observation at press time yesterday.

Police and fire department officials confirmed that the fire was caused by an unknown accelerant.

"Through the use of our fire department accelerant K-9 team, we have determined that some type of accelerant was used and our preliminary lab reports came back positive for accelerants," Mr. Brady said. He added that police now will lead the investigation with assistance from the fire department to find the arsonist.

While police and fire officials are not clear about events leading up to the fire, witnesses and neighbors gave accounts of what occurred.

"There was a fight that came outside," said a neighbor who lives three homes away from the burned-out structure but declined to be identified.

"Someone came back later, and their car was so loud it sounded like they didn´t have a muffler. I heard a loud boom and tires screeching, and when I came out I saw the house was on fire," she said.

"We´ve been complaining about that house for a long time now, but nothing was done."

Cpl. Clark would not confirm this account, but did say police were considering all available information.

Seat Pleasant Council member Kelly Porter, Democrat, said the city has had complaints about homes on that block.

"There are allegations of different types of criminal activity that may have been occurring at the home, and we are looking into that as part of the investigation," said Cpl. Clark.

But family members of the victims, Levell Coles and his cousin Cheneka Brown, believe that the fire most likely was an accident.

Miss Brown, 20, who lives in the house with her daughter but was not home at the time of the fire, was told about it by her cousin Tionna Robinson at 5 a.m.

"She called me from my uncle´s house across the street, and I got here as soon as I could," said Miss Brown.

Another one of her uncles, Edgar Robinson, 17, was injured in the fire and taken to Prince George´s Community Hospital.

Miss Brown said she was told by Washington Hospital Center officials that her father, Ronald, "had burns over half of his body and that he had a 50-50-chance of living."

Although she could not be certain, she believes her uncle Anthony Coles, 37, and her aunt Yvonne Caldwell, who would have turned 39 yesterday, were two of the deceased. "We have not been able to find them," she said.

Both Miss Brown and Mr. Coles were unsure about reported criminal activity and rumors of an altercation, but would not rule them out.

"We did have a lot of visitors coming into the house, and in the past there have been some problems. But that doesn´t mean that there was something criminal going on today," said Miss Brown.

"People keep telling me that somebody threw a Molotov cocktail into the house, but I don´t know who would want to hurt any of our family," said Mr. Coles.

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