- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

Fire investigators in the District and Prince George’s County have added an early-morning fire outside a Northeast home yesterday to a growing list of deliberately set fires that could be the work of a serial arsonist.

No one was injured in yesterday’s fire, which was set at about 4 a.m. on the front porch of a home in the 2400 block of Randolph Street NE. The front door of the house was charred and the porch was extensively damaged.

“It appears to have definite similarities to the other fires that have occurred,” said D.C. Battalion Chief Richard Fleming, the city’s head arson investigator. Chief Fleming said investigators found traces of an accelerant.

Speaking through a blue sheet draped over the entrance where the front door had been, the owners of the home declined to discuss the incident.

Authorities have conclusively linked four fires from a list of 19 deliberately set fires deemed “similar in nature” to a serial arsonist. Three of the fires that were linked occurred in Prince George’s County and one in the District.

Overall, nine of the fires have occurred in Prince George’s County and 10 have occurred in the District. The list of 19 fires includes yesterday’s fire in Northeast.

The first fire was set March 25 in the 2000 block of Jasper Road SE. The other 18 fires in the two jurisdictions have been set since May 15. A June 5 fire in the 4900 block of Evarts Street NE killed 86-year-old Lou Edna Jones. The Metropolitan Police Department is investigating that case as a homicide.

Chief Fleming said just because four fires have been conclusively connected, that doesn’t mean the other 15 fires aren’t connected.

“At this point we haven’t ruled any of them out, and we haven’t ruled any of them in,” he said. “The similarities dictate that we continue to look at them.”

Capt. Chauncey Bowers, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County fire department, said all the fires occurred in the overnight hours in occupied structures and involved a liquid accelerant.

“These are all arson fires,” Capt. Bowers said.

He said investigators also have collected physical evidence that linked the four fires, but he would not elaborate on what that evidence was.

Meanwhile, investigators announced yesterday that a fire on the fifth floor of an eight-floor apartment building in Southwest on Thursday evening is not on the list of suspicious fires.

They said over the weekend investigators found an ignitable liquid on the fourth-floor hallway of the Marina View Towers. So far, none of the 19 residences where the fires have been set have been targeted twice.

“It seems that there may be some other circumstances there that dictate that we not include it,” Chief Fleming said.

Though only four of the fires have been linked, Chief Fleming said the danger posed by an arsonist is not something that the public should ignore. He said too often arson is written off as a property crime because damage is covered by homeowner’s insurance.

“I just don’t think people realize the gravity of someone indiscriminately starting a fire,” Chief Fleming said. “Arson is a crime. It’s a very, very violent crime. It’s just a matter of people not being hurt or killed by the luck of the draw.”

In some cases, serial arsonists are never caught.

In the spring of 1989, a firebug dubbed the “Shaw arsonist” set more than a dozen vacant buildings in the Northwest neighborhood on fire over a six-week period. Fire officials speculated that the arsonist was attempting to drive drug dealers out of the neighborhood by burning properties used as crack houses.

A task force consisting of the Prince George’s County and D.C. fire departments, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Metropolitan Police Department yesterday announced a $6,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the series of fires.

Anyone with information about the fires is asked to call 301/77-ARSON.

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