- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 12, 2004

INDIAN HEAD, Md. — Authorities investigating the arsons that burned dozens of houses in Charles County a week ago today said yesterday they are analyzing evidence and looking for suspects in the case.

“Everything’s status quo now,” Maryland Deputy Fire Marshal W. Faron Taylor said. “We’re still looking for suspects.”

The investigation includes analysis of evidence such as accelerants found in and around the massive crime scene. Authorities also are continuing to look for a blue van seen by firefighters in the Hunters Brooke subdivision in the early morning hours of Dec. 6.

Meanwhile, the community in which 10 houses were destroyed and 16 others were damaged is moving on.

The few residents who live in the mostly unoccupied subdivision off Route 225 said yesterday they are not scared of living in the neighborhood. Many of them spent yesterday preparing their homes for the upcoming holidays.

“It’s not a bother,” said Jimmy So, as he and his wife, Judy, and two children decorated their new home for Christmas. Mr. So attached an electric air pump to inflate two giant snowmen near the front door, where a wreath hung.

“It was shocking,” said Mr. So, who had taken the day off from operating his cleaning shop in La Plata on the day of the fire.

But the fires are in the past, he said, and his family is moving on.

Yesterday, two officers from the Charles County Sheriff’s Office blocked one of the neighborhood streets where most of the damaged or destroyed houses are located.

An odor of burned wood lingers.

Arson is suspected in 20 of the fires that destroyed or damaged 26 houses. Investigators have said attempts were made to burn 10 other houses.

Those 10 are not included in the 26 houses that were either damaged or destroyed.

The fires at the houses, which were in various stages of construction, caused at least $10 million in damage. No one was injured. The houses were priced between $400,000 and $500,000.

Speculation about a motive for the blazes has ranged from ecoterrorism or insurance fraud to hate crime or revenge by disgruntled construction workers. The sheer volume of the fires has caused investigators to suspect that more than one person was involved in setting the fires.

The neighborhood has experienced an increase in vehicular traffic since the fires.

“People … go by all the time,” said Anita Thompson, whose house backs up to a graded draw across from charred timbers of burned houses.

Mrs. Thompson, a government operations station manager, and husband, Clayton T. Thompson, a Fairfax County firefighter, moved into their new home two weeks ago.

“The whole sky was lit up,” said Mrs. Thompson, who was out walking her pit bull, Venus, when the fires broke out. “It’s still kind of frightening.”

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