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Officials: Riverdale blaze that injured firefighters was arson

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A fire in Riverdale that injured seven Prince George's County firefighters is being investigated as arson, officials said Wednesday.

The fire started at about 9:10 p.m. Friday in the basement of a house in the 6400 block of 57th Avenue.

“This cowardly crime is unconscionable to me,” said Prince George's County Fire Chief Marc S. Bashoor. “I assure you we will leave no stone unturned to bring anyone responsible to justice.”

 Firefighter Kevin O'Toole, 22, remains in Washington Hospital Center with burns over roughly 50 percent of his body. He was listed in critical but stable condition Wednesday afternoon.

The other injured firefighters are back home.

Ethan Sorrell, 21, was released from the hospital's burn unit Tuesday night.

Firefighters arrived at the burning home minutes after the first calls came in. Some rushed through a basement door while others burst through the front door in search of potential victims. The high winds and open doors resulted in a burst of flames that injured several firefighters on the first floor. Firefighters thought somebody might be inside after they saw a parked car, but the house turned out to be vacant.

Officials also said Wednesday that they were investigating a fire at the house next door on 57th Avenue two or three weeks ago that never was reported.

The investigation includes the state's attorney's office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Right now, officials do not suspect a serial arsonist, said Special Agent David Cheplak, spokesman for ATF's Baltimore field office.

But he said national numbers show that someone who sets a fire likely will do it again.

The two fires were set in the basement of vacant, single-family homes, though Chief Bashoor said evidence indicated that someone had been staying in the homes.

Mr. Sorrell's radio was displayed during Wednesday's news conference, its neon green casing and smooth button controls charred and twisted.

The radios are meant to withstand temperatures as high as 150 degrees, Chief Bashoor said, though he admitted that is not very hot when it comes to fighting fires.

Prince George's County State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks made a promise to the person or people responsible for the fire that they would be caught and “prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” which could mean a first-degree arson charge that carries up to 30 years behind bars and a $50,000 fine.

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