- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Prince George’s County fire officials are stopping short of saying that another serial arsonist is at large, but they added a morning house fire yesterday to a list of 11 suspicious blazes they are investigating in the Accokeek area.

Fire department spokesman Mark Brady said the fire was reported about 4:45 a.m. yesterday in the 16200 block of Livingston Road.

A two-story house, which is set back from a main road on an unmarked, unpaved, one-lane cul-de-sac, was not occupied. It was under construction and very near completion.

The fire caused about $500,000 in damage. All that remained of the house yesterday was its foundation and its brick facade facing the street.

Mr. Brady said the fire bears similarities to several other deliberately set fires that have been started in unoccupied structures during pre-dawn hours in the area since March 2004.

The most recent fire was set Feb. 15 at a $1.4 million model home in the 1500 block of St. James Way in Accokeek.

“We’re not willing at this point to say we’re only looking for one person,” Mr. Brady said yesterday. “Right now, we’re investigating each case on its own merit.”

The house that was destroyed yesterday was the site of another deliberately set fire July 15. Neighbors said the siding melted during that fire, but much of the structure remained intact.

Michael Holland, 25, who lives across the street from the burned house, said he smelled smoke when he and his girlfriend were getting home yesterday at about 3:20 a.m.

He said that he didn’t see any fire and that there were no cars parked near the house.

Mr. Holland said he went into his house and lay down. At about 4:30 a.m., he said he was awakened by what sounded like a car door shutting. Then he saw light from the fire and called 911.

“It’s just crazy,” Mr. Holland said. “It’s so close to home.”

He said he had to move his car from the driveway because sparks were flying from the fire. Some of the sparks ignited fallen leaves.

Another neighbor, who asked not to be named because the arsonist remains at large, said she woke up when the house was burning. She described a loud crash when the house collapsed in on itself.

Several neighbors speculated yesterday about whether the house was targeted because the family expecting to move in is black, because someone in the neighborhood didn’t want more houses built, or because an arsonist felt it was easily approachable from a field behind it.

“It brings tears to my eyes,” said Janet Gray, who lives across from the house. “It makes me very nervous. Thank God he’s not burning homes with people in them.”

If connected, the Accokeek cases would join several other high-profile arson cases in the area in recent years.

In April, authorities arrested serial arsonist Thomas A. Sweatt, 51, of the District, and charged him with setting 45 fires, including two fatal ones, in the District, Prince George’s County and other parts of Maryland over a two-year period. He was sentenced in September to life in prison.

In December 2004, a gang of five men set fire to 26 upscale homes under construction about 10 miles away from Accokeek in Indian Head, Md.

Three of the men pleaded guilty and have been sentenced to prison terms between seven years and 20 years. Two others still face trial.

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