- The Washington Times - Monday, June 14, 2004

Montgomery County firefighters early yesterday doused the remains of two fires that caused about $500,000 worth of damage at the construction site of the Strathmore Hall Arts Center in Bethesda.

No one was injured in the fires, which caused no structural damage to the complex, fire officials said. The fires were believed to have been set deliberately. Officials said they had no suspects.

About 4:30 a.m., a construction worker arrived at the site and noticed smoke coming from the building. He contacted firefighters, who spent about 15 minutes extinguishing the fires, officials said.

The fires were in “the last phase of burning,” said Lt. Oscar Garcia, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service. “It could’ve been burning for a long time on the fuel, but it was running out of air.”

Lt. Garcia said officials had ruled out a connection to a serial arsonist who is believed to have set fire to at least 35 homes in the metropolitan area in the past year and a half.

“It doesn’t have the same [mode of operation],” he said. “The points we would look at to connect to the serial arsonist aren’t there.”

The $100 million music and arts center will open on time Feb. 5, said county spokeswoman Danna Bigler.

Clark Construction Group Inc., the Bethesda-based contractor for the center, is filing an insurance claim, company spokeswoman Louise Pulizzi said.

Lt. Garcia said fire investigators found paint spread in a hallway but no ignition sources, such as electrical appliances or heaters.

“Graffiti and vandalism are not uncommon on construction sites,” he said, but “it’s too early to associate the fire with vandalism.”

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