- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Authorities said a morning blaze yesterday at an apartment building in Bladensburg was likely started by a serial arsonist who is believed to have set dozens of fires around the region in the past 21 months.

Prince George’s County fire officials said the latest fire — the 44th fire, plus one attempt, believed to be the work of the arsonist — was set just before 5 a.m. at the Hilltop Manor apartment complex on 53rd Avenuein Bladensburg. No serious injuries were reported.

“The task force is investigating this fire,” said Special Agent Mike Campbell, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “It will be added to the list.”

Investigators also are examining a fire last week in Arlington County to see if it is attributable to the serial arsonist.

Yesterday, someone ignited a fire in the stairwell of the two-story, four-unit apartment building whose security door usually locks.

“They have a security door that typically requires a code to go in, but the door was not operational at the time,” said Mark Brady, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County Fire and Rescue Department.

Firefighters using ground ladders rescued three persons who had been trapped in their second-floor apartments by thick smoke and heat.

The fire was quickly extinguished, and two persons were treated for smoke inhalation on the scene. No one was transported to the hospital, and damage was estimated at about $5,000.

The arson comes a day after fires ravaged an upscale subdivision under construction in Indian Head, Md. The serial arsonist is not suspected of setting those fires, which damaged or destroyed more than 40 houses and resulted in about $10 million in damage.

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

“That’s one theory that gets looked at,” Mr. Campbell said.

He said the ATF’sNational Response Team is working on the Indian Head investigation and no investigators have been diverted from the regional Arson Task Force.

Mr. Campbell also said federal authorities are examining a fire at a home in the 1000 block of South Queen Street in Arlington last week to determine whether the serial arsonist set it. He said the arson task force was not initially involved after that fire.

“There has been no determination if that one is similar,” he said.

If the fire is connected to the arsonist, it would mark the first time the arsonist has struck in Arlington County.

Since March 2003, the arsonist is believed to have set 20 fires in the District, 18 in Prince George’s County, three in Fairfax County, two in Montgomery County and one in Alexandria. The attempted arson occurred in the District.

If the Arlington fire is not connected, yesterday’s blaze would be the first set by the arsonist in 74 days, when the person struck in Montgomery County on Sept. 23.

The longest lull in the series was 75 days, between a June 15 fire in Prince George’s County and an Aug. 30 fire in Fairfax County.

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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