- The Washington Times - Friday, September 17, 2004

A serial arsonist who has plagued the region and confounded authorities for more than a year and a half apparently struck for the 40th time early yesterday in Prince George’s County.

Yesterday’s fire was set at 5 a.m. outside a single-family home in the 6300 block of 49th Avenue in Riverdale Park, said Mark Brady, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County Fire and Rescue Department.

Eight persons were in the house at the time, but all escaped safely.

The fire, set outside the front door of the home, damaged siding and a porch overhang.

It was discovered by newspaper carriers making deliveries, Mr. Brady said.

“They saw the fire and started honking their horn and yelling, ‘Fire, fire,’” Mr. Brady said.

Jerry Davis, 18, lives in the house. He said the fire around the front of the house was so intense that his family could not escape through the front door. He said evacuating became complicated when his father could not find the key to the locked back door.

The seven family members, including an 11-month-old child and a live-in baby sitter, escaped through a basement door. The fire blackened the front porch and overhang and melted siding around the front door, causing about $3,000 in damage, Mr. Brady said.

Mr. Davis said a passing Riverdale Park police officer stopped and used a fire extinguisher in his cruiser to bring the fire under control while the fire department was en route.

“You watch the news and you read in the papers and you never think it’s going to happen to you, you just feel sorry for the people it happens to,” Mr. Davis said.

Members of the Arson Task Force force interviewed several neighborhood residents, but Mr. Brady would not say whether anyone saw the arsonist. He said that no critical leads could be released from yesterday’s fire.

The task force added the fire to the list of 38 others and one attempted arson that date to March 2003, Mr. Brady said. The fires have occurred in the District, Prince George’s County, Fairfax County, Montgomery County and Alexandria starting in March 2003.

So far, 18 arsons and one attempted arson have occurred in the District, where the only fatality occurred when an elderly woman was killed in a June 2003 fire. The arsonist has struck 17 times in Prince George’s County, twice in Fairfax and once in Montgomery and Alexandria.

Yesterday’s fire was the seventh set in 2004. None has been set in the District so far this year.

The most recent fire connected to the arsonist was set June 15 in the Mount Rainier section of Prince George’s County. Authorities have concluded that an Aug. 30 fire in Fairfax County was not linked to the serial arsonist.

In February, the task force released a sketch of a suspect, based on the description of one witness who was at the attempted arson in Northeast Washington on Sept. 14, 2003. Authorities ask anyone with any information about the arsonist to call the task force tip line at 301/77-ARSON.

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