- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 8, 2004

INDIAN HEAD, Md. — The torching of new houses in an upscale subdivision has spawned wild speculation in this rural Charles County community about the culprit’s motive.

Residents say the blaze could have been set by ecoterrorists protesting the development’s encroachment on a bog or by hunters protesting encroachment on their hunting grounds.

Others say disgruntled construction workers could have enacted a fiery revenge on their bosses, or that out-of-work laborers could have started the fire to create more jobs on the construction site.

Some say the arsonist was striking out against the onslaught of newcomers to the area or lashing out against blacks moving into the development.

Investigators have not publicly ruled out any motive for the arson at Hunters Brooke development early Monday that destroyed 10 houses, damaged 16 and caused an estimated $10 million in damage.

“This area has been well hunted for years,” said Mike Quade, 40, a lifelong county resident and construction worker on the development.

He said sportsmen and farmers have a long history of cooperation in staking out hunting territory in the wooded hills that now have been stripped and dotted with lots for $400,000 to $500,000 homes. The hunters were not happy with the changing landscape, he said.

“But were they [angry] enough to do this? I don’t know,” Mr. Quade said.

At the Lone Star Cafe on Route 225 near the development site, a man who gave his name only as Ronnie said he didn’t buy the hunter theory. “There are too many hunting places for that,” he said, adding that the arsonist is probably a local resident.

“It is probably somebody who worked up in there,” said Ronnie, a 59-year-old general contractor and painter. “It was probably someone upset about losing their job or being laid off. At Christmas time, a lot of people get laid off. … They could have burned it down just to get some work.”

Some residents said lingering racism in the community might have been the impetus of the arsonist’s rage. Others disagreed.

“I never had any problems with racism here,” said Sheila Monts, a black woman who moved into Hunters Brooke last month.

Her home, like all the occupied houses in the development, was not damaged by fire.

“I’m not afraid to stay here,” she said. “I’ve never felt any racial anything” in this community.

“Nothing [racist] in this neighborhood has been reported in this area in the past year,” said Capt. J.C. Montminy of the Charles County Sheriff’s Office.

However, a 63-year-old black man who has lived in the Indian Head area all his life said racism always simmers just beneath the surface of his rural hometown. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if the fire was the work of a racist arsonist.

“They’ve been putting racial slurs up on the walls there for some time,” said Grant Baker, a retired Navy contractor. “This is a racial town, and it still half is. That racial thing is still here.”

Marilyn Weimer, a black woman who lost her home in Charles County to a fire in March, said she suspects the Hunters Brooke arson was racially motivated.

“I’m not convinced there are no racial underpinnings. I try not to go there first, but it doesn’t leave your mind,” said Mrs. Weimer, who lives in Accokeek.

nDenise Barnes in Washington contributed to this report.

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