- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2006

Six of seven fires deliberately set in unoccupied houses in Accokeek since 2004 occurred within a mile of the town’s volunteer fire department.

The most recent fire occurred early Tuesday, when a house that was under construction but nearly complete was burned to its foundation. The house had been extensively damaged during another arson in July.

Mark Brady, spokesman for the Prince George’s County fire department, said investigators are aware of the pattern, but he could not discuss whether they had developed any theories or conclusions.

“Nothing has been ruled out, and fire investigators have an open-minded approach to these investigations,” Mr. Brady said.

The seventh unsolved arson was at 1507 Saint James Court, less than three miles from the fire station.

The Accokeek Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad, at 16111 Livingston Road, is responsible for covering an area of 18.6 square miles.

Christopher Maggi, chief of the volunteer department, declined to speak about the fires yesterday.

“They are being investigated, and I have no comment on it,” Chief Maggi said.

County fire officials released a list of unsolved arsons in Accokeek on Tuesday. They have stopped short of saying that the fires are connected but say they are investigating that possibility.

The string of unsolved fires, which started in March 2004, has caused nearly $2 million in damage to houses being built in the suburban community about 10 miles from the District in the southwest corner of Prince George’s County.

Two of the seven fires were set in homes scheduled for demolition. All the fires were set between midnight and 5 a.m.

Mr. Brady said he could not discuss how the fires were set, adding that investigators have no information to indicate that a single person was responsible for all the fires.

In addition to the residential fires, investigators are looking at four unsolved arsons around Accokeek, two of which were set at commercial properties and two of which were set in sheds. Those fires have caused more than $375,000 in damage and occurred outside the one-mile radius of the fire station.

Last year, a volunteer member of the department pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit arson.

Jeremy Daniel Parady, 21, of Accokeek, was sentenced in December to seven years and three months in prison for his role in an arson that destroyed 10 houses and did more than $10 million worth of damage at a Charles County housing development in December 2004.

Judith Allen-Leventhal, president of the Greater Accokeek Civic Association, said the fire department is the “safety net” of the developing community.

“There’s quite a bit of concern,” she said. “People hate to see other people’s property destroyed.”

Mrs. Allen-Leventhal said residents have their own theories about why the fires are being set.

She described Accokeek as an inclusive community and said it would be difficult to believe the fires were racially motivated. A black family had been planning to move into the house that was destroyed Tuesday.

“Crazy people do crazy things,” she said. “But the people who are pushing for livable communities are not the type who would destroy others’ properties.”

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