The number of investigators more than tripled yesterday, growing from about 30 on Monday to more than 100. Local, state and federal agencies, including the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are investigating the blazes, which also damaged at least 16 houses. Fire officials originally reported that 29 houses were damaged, but lowered that figure yesterday.
Investigators are trying to determine where each of the fires was ignited and whether there were unsuccessful attempts to set fires. Investigators late Monday recovered some evidence, which was taken to the ATF laboratory in Ammendale, Md., ATF Special Agent Mike Campbell said.
“This is one of the largest [crime scenes] areawise that our National Response Team has investigated,” Mr. Campbell said. “You’ve got houses in various stages of construction and various stages of fire damage. It’s a unique scene.”
Since 1997, ELF has taken responsibility for more than 40 acts of arson or property destruction costing more than $100 million nationwide. A spokesman for ELF did not respond to e-mails sent by The Washington Times yesterday and on Monday.
Yesterday, investigators inspected the damaged houses, each situated on a quarter-acre lot. They also conducted interviews with residents and business owners in the community, Marshal Taylor said.
Chemists and engineers are also among the investigators, who are interviewing various persons, including the construction crews, he said.
He said authorities also were conducting interviews with an independent security contractor who was hired by the developer to protect the houses under construction. Several residents said Monday that the security officers had left the area at about 4 a.m. The fires were reported less than an hour later.
“I can’t answer whether they were actually here at the time,” Marshal Taylor said.
Damage was scattered throughout the closely built development. In some cases, houses that were burned nearly to the ground sat next to structures suffering only minimal damage. Some lots were empty; others were just foundations waiting for construction.
Marshal Taylor would not comment on the origin or methods used by the arsonists. “Divulging information compromises an important investigatory tool,” he said.
But he did say that some fires began inside the houses.
“Fires inside some of those houses would not have been readily apparent to firefighters at that time [when they arrived at the scene],” he said.
The Hunters Brooke subdivision was part of a 319-unit development plan to build houses on both sides of the Araby Bog, a wetland area 25 miles south of the District that provides a unique home for plants and animals.
Environmental activists had opposed the development for several years, saying it would pollute the bog and have a negative effect on the Chesapeake Bay.
The posh development also had plenty of other opponents who didn’t agree with the county’s rapid growth in recent years.View Entire Story
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