- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The Washington area’s serial arsonist struck for the 39th time early yesterday, setting a fire in a Prince George’s County apartment building that temporarily trapped the top-floor residents, fire officials said.

No one was injured in the fire, which was set shortly before 1 a.m. in the stairwell connecting the second and third floors of the Kaywood Gardens Apartments in Mount Rainier, officials said.

The regional Arson Task Force determined that the fire fit the pattern of 38 other suspicious blazes being investigated.

“The person or people involved understand what they are doing,” said Capt. Chauncey Bowers, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County fire department. “They know it’s very dangerous, and it has the ability to affect human life.”

Capt. Bowers said the task force has been following leads and is “literally one phone call away from closing this case.”

He said it is not clear how the arsonist entered the building, which requires a key for entry. The apartment building, which suffered about $10,000 worth of damage, is in the 5200 block of Russell Avenue.

Yesterday, county firefighters evacuated four residents from the third floor, including John Tresvant, 50. Two of his cats — a long-haired tuxedo and a Persian — awakened him after the fire had started.

“If it weren’t for [my] cats, I would’ve had smoke inhalation,” Mr. Tresvant said. “They definitely saved me from being hurt.”

He noted a heavy smell of gasoline in the hallway. “This was done deliberately — to trap people on the third floor,” Mr. Tresvant said.

Capt. Bowers said that if lab results show the presence of accelerant, yesterday’s fire would be more closely linked to the serial arsonist.

The fire marks the arsonist’s 16th attack in Prince George’s County. The arsonist also is linked to 18 fires and one attempted fire in the District, one fire in Alexandria, two in Fairfax County and one in Montgomery County.

An 86-year-old Northeast woman was killed in one of the D.C. fires last June.

The first fire linked to the serial arsonist occurred in March 2003 in Southeast.

Before yesterday’s fire, the most recent blaze linked to the serial arsonist occurred May 13 in Alexandria.

The task force was formed in June 2003 and includes at least a dozen full-time investigators from 12 local and state agencies.

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