- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2003

Since March 5, more than two dozen fires have been set in the District and Prince George’s County. Public-safety authorities suspect a serial arsonist, and say they have a pretty good idea about the type of person who sets such fires and his calling card. Unfortunately, they have no suspects — leaving us to wonder whether the D.C. and Prince George’s fire and police departments have the capacity to carry out such investigations.

The most recent blaze occurred early Wednesday morning, when the front porch of a house in Northeast was set ablaze with gasoline. That has been the calling card of the arsonist. He searches for occupied residences. He sets the front porch or back porch on fire. He uses a flammable liquid in a plastic container, makes a wick out of cloth and then sets the front or back porch on fire. He carries out his dangerous deeds during the early morning hours, when he knows residents are fast asleep. Blessedly, there has been but one fatality: a June 5 blaze in Northeast that took the life of an 86-year-old woman.

To their credit, local authorities have established a reward and an arson task force. They also are informing residents about the importance of smoke detectors, outdoor lighting and trimming bushes and hedges. Those are indeed inexpensive safety precautions — and even more so when a serial arsonist is on the prowl. There also is a telephone number (301/77-ARSON) and ane-mailaddress ([email protected]). Federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have been working with local authorities. In fact, it was ATF analyses that let local authorities know that they had serious trouble on their hands back in the spring.

We understand that Mayor Williams and the D.C. Council have a lot on their agenda when the legislative session reconvenes next week. However, their to-do list should be a visit to the post-September 11 D.C. Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001, which lists arson as an act of terror. Fire and police authorities must be grilled on their respective capacities to investigate arsons and told to hunt down the sinister culprit — by any legal means necessary — before he becomes deadlier.

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