- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Montgomery County police are uncertain why fires are being set in department stores throughout the county but suspect it may be the work of a pair of roving thieves.
"There is a good possibility that the motive is to set diversionary fires to steal merchandise out of the store," said Montgomery County Assistant Fire Marshal Brian Geraci.
But in only four of the recent arson incidents have department stores reported theft of merchandise.
"Maybe one of them missed something," said Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Lt. Oscar Garcia, adding that police and arson investigators will continue to treat the fires as possible diversions from thefts.
The latest incident occurred Monday, when six small fires were set in a Kmart at 14014 Connecticut Ave. in Kensington, causing employees to evacuate the store. No evidence of theft was found, store managers said.
"There was nothing stolen that we can tell," a Kmart store manager told The Washington Times."It was pure maliciousness."
Montgomery County police investigating the fire yesterday were interviewing witnesses and store employees and alerting local merchants and security operators.
Investigators interviewed a woman whose face was captured on a store surveillance video. Police released a photo of the woman to the media and said she was in the area where one of the fires had just been set in the store.
But after talking with her, they determined she was not involved in the incident.
Firefighters found two fires each in Kmart's automotive and hardware departments, and a fire in the men's area and the infants' department.
The fires were contained by the store's sprinkler system, but it took firefighters 20 minutes to extinguish the flames.
An unidentified Kmart customer was taken to Montgomery General Hospital for smoke inhalation, said Lt. Garcia. No other injuries were reported.
Damage to the building and its contents was estimated at $250,000.
Police believe there is a link between the Kmart fire and a trio of blazes set in three department stores May 25.
At 2:15 p.m., firefighters responded to a fire in the J.C. Penney store in Wheaton Plaza where multiple small fires caused $10,000 in damage.
Twelve minutes later, there was a fire at the Bloomingdale's in White Flint Plaza on Rockville Pike in the third-floor lingerie department. The blaze caused $500,000 in damage.
Finally, at 3:10 p.m. that day, firefighters responded to a call at the Ames department store on Viers Mill Road, where small fires caused minimal damage, said Lt. Garcia.
No injuries were reported from the three fires.
Police think the fist three fires are related to the one Monday at Kmart because they happened during the same period, and they believe all four were set as a distraction so the offenders could then steal merchandise.
Bloomingdale's is the only store that reported stolen merchandise, Lt. Garcia said.


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