- The Washington Times - Friday, December 10, 2004

A predawn fire yesterday morning at a D.C. home has been linked to one set earlier this week and others by the area’s serial arsonist, investigators said. However, it also shows signs that the arsonist is becoming more destructive.

The fire occurred shortly before 5 a.m. at a house in the 3000 block of Yost Place NE.

Residents Mary Johnson and Gene Richardson were at home. Miss Johnson, who usually gets up at about 4:30 a.m., was awake when the fire was set.

“She was walking in the kitchen, and her smoke alarm went off,” fire department spokesman Alan Etter said. “She thought that was odd because she did not smell any smoke.” But she saw smoke outside and woke Mr. Richardson, he said.

They tried to extinguish the blaze before firefighters arrived. Miss Johnson was treated at the scene for a minor burn to her right hand, but Mr. Richardson was uninjured, Mr. Etter said.

Yesterday’s fire could mark a significant deviation from the pattern of the serial arsonist, who has now set 45 fires in the District, Maryland and Virginia in the past 21 months.

Two sources told The Washington Times that yesterday’s fire appeared to have more than one point of origin and that a liquid accelerant was dispersed in such a way so that the fire would spread inside the house. An area around a porch and the siding near a window were visibly charred.

Mr. Etter referred further questions about the fire to federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agent Kelly Long.

Miss Long said yesterday’s fire has been linked to the arsonist and that it has been added to the list of those being investigated by the task force created to catch the arsonist.

On Monday, arson destroyed or damaged 26 homes in an upscale subdivision under construction in Indian Head, Md., but the serial arsonist is not suspected of setting those fires, which resulted in about $10 million in damage.

The area fire earlier this week believed to be set by the arsonist occurred at about 5 a.m. Tuesday at an apartment building in the 4200 block of 53rd Avenue in Bladensburg.

Investigators yesterday said the serial arsonist could be acting out in response to the Indian Head case, which has attracted national attention.

Authorities also said it is not clear whether a fire in the 1000 block of South Queen Street in Arlington last week is connected to the serial arsonist.

Investigators concluded that the Arlington County fire was set using a liquid accelerant, but they have yet to link it to the arsonist.

Since March 2003, the arsonist is believed to have set 21 fires in the District, 18 in Prince George’s County, three in Fairfax County, two in Montgomery County and one in Alexandria. One attempted arson occurred in the District.

Yesterday’s fire occurred in the same neighborhood in which the arsonist is believed to have set two other fires. The fire is about a half mile from the one in June 2003 on Evarts Street NE that killed Lou Edna Jones, 86, believed to be the only fatality connected to the arsonist.

The arsonist returned to the neighborhood in September and set a fire in the 2800 block of 30th Street NE. No one was injured in that fire.

ATF special agent Mike Campbell said yesterday that an agency profiler thinks the arsonist is perhaps more organized that previously thought and that the person could be setting more fires as the person’s stress level increases as the holidays approach.

Anyone with information about the fires is encouraged to call fire investigators at 301/77-ARSON or e-mail 77arson@co.pg.md.us. A $35,000 reward is offered for information that leads to an arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the crimes.

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