- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2003

Montgomery County fire officials said yesterday two dozen fires set in the Darnestown area over the past three months are not linked to the serial arsonist who remains on the loose in the District and Prince George’s County.

County fire officials said they believe one or more juveniles set the 24 blazes, the majority of which have been set in trash cans and Dumpsters. Three fires have been at construction sites and six near schools. No one has been hurt.

“The reality is we’ve had 24 fires in the last three months, $750,000 in damage, no injuries yet,” County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said. “The latest fire spread to a school building. We could have a situation where all of a sudden a school is on fire, we could have tremendous damage there, millions of dollars of damage, and a situation where maybe somebody is there that they didn’t know about, and we could have a fatality.”

The series of fires in the county began April 12. The most recent occurred July 12 in a shed outside Stone Mill Elementary School in North Potomac. It spread to a nearby county day care facility, causing $25,000 in damage. The fires were set overnight, and in some cases, involved the use of liquid accelerants.

Fire investigators classify the blazes as “similar in nature” but insist they are not connected to the spate of 24 fires under investigation in Prince George’s County and the District. So far, six in those jurisdictions have been conclusively linked to one another.

All those fires involved the use of liquid accelerants, but they were set outside occupied homes. The fires, which were set overnight or in the early morning hours, have left one person dead and seven others injured.

Mr. Duncan said county officials want to stop whoever is setting the Montgomery County fires before the incidents become as serious.

“We’re very concerned that if it’s the same group of people doing this they’re becoming emboldened as they continue to do this and not get caught, and then they start to do bigger and bigger things and then start to get into occupied buildings,” he said.

Chief Brian Geraci, the county’s assistant fire marshal, said investigators have received some tips and have some “vague descriptions,” but not much else.

“We have very little physical evidence on any of these fires to link anybody to anything,” he said.

County Fire Administrator Gordon Aoyagi said the nature of the fires leads him to think it is one or a number of juveniles vandalizing property. He said the 24 fires were linked by the locations and the times they were set.

“Because of geography and time, that sort of lends itself to say somebody’s familiar with that area, but other than that we haven’t seen any conclusive evidence,” he said. “There’s no tagging that says, ‘I’m the arsonist, you’ve got to catch me.’ There’s none of that.”

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