- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Charles County officials and investigators have not ruled out any motives in their search for arsonists who torched dozens of newly constructed luxury houses in Indian Head, Md., last week.

Investigators said yesterday they are looking into ecoterrorism and racism as motives behind the Dec. 6 fires that caused at least $10 million in damage in the Hunters Brooke development off Route 225.

“We haven’t eliminated any potential motives,” said W. Faron Taylor, deputy state fire marshal.

Environmentalists complained that the upscale development would endanger the nearby magnolia bog. Suspicions of racism were raised because many black families were among the prospective buyers in the subdivision.

“We are still trying to determine how many [arsonists] are involved,” Marshal Taylor said.

Investigators think more than one person is responsible because the fires were in widespread locations throughout a 10-acre area.

Chemical analysis of suspected accelerants is continuing, as are examinations of other evidence found on the scene. Marshal Taylor said results of the analyses are confidential as investigators examine potential leads.

Marshal Taylor said the investigation has moved from the site to local neighborhoods.

“We are still in the interview phase [of the investigation],” said Marshal Taylor, adding that more than 150 interviews have been conducted in the past five days.

“In essence, it’s a door-to-door investigation,” he said.

County and business leaders have posted a $82,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction of the arsonists.

“This is something that affected the whole county,” said Nina Voehl, a spokeswoman for Charles County. “The community has stepped up to the plate. We take it seriously.”

Authorities have asked anyone with information about the fires to call 800/492-TIPS.

“We’ve received hundreds of tips,” said Kristen Adkins,spokeswoman for the county sheriff’s office.

The early-morning fires destroyed 10 unoccupied houses and damaged 16 others. The arsonists tried to set fire to 10 other houses. The houses are priced between $400,000 and $500,000.

Insurance appraisers yesterday assessed the damage to the development, as the few Hunters Brooke residents try to put the fires behind them.

“People have moved back in,” Mrs. Voehl said, referring to the few inhabitants who had settled on purchase contracts and acquired county use-and-occupancy permits.

No permits have been issued since the arsons.

Facchina Construction Co. Inc., of La Plata, Md., has resumed work on unfinished houses, said a company executive who declined to be identified. The executive would not say whether repairs have begun on the burned houses.

Sheriff’s deputies guard the subdivision 24 hours a day. They have replaced the guards from Security Services of America, which the developer had hired before the fires to protect the community during construction.

On the day of the fires, several residents reported that the security guards were not on the job about an hour before the blazes were set. Authorities interviewed the guards, and the security company confirmed that it is cooperating with the investigation.

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