- The Washington Times - Monday, September 20, 2004

The region’s serial arsonist returned to the District for the first time this year yesterday, setting an early morning fire outside a home in Brentwood, according to officials with the Arson Task Force.

The fire was set shortly before 5 a.m. outside the side door of a home in the 2800 block of 30th Street NE, said Alan Etter, a spokesman for the D.C. fire department.

Three persons were inside the home at the time of the fire, but all escaped safely. Fire officials estimated damage at about $3,000.

The fire was the first in the District since November and the 42nd case believed to be connected with the arsonist since the string of suspicious fires began in March 2003.

Authorities have adjusted upward the number of fires being examined for links to the arsonist to include an Aug. 30 fire in the 4000 block of Elmwood Drive in Fairfax County that was not originally added to the list, said Special Agent Kelly Long, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore field office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Yesterday’s fire was the third in the past three weeks believed connected to the arsonist since a June 15 fire in the Mount Rainier section of Prince George’s County.

“There did seem to be a lull for a while,” Miss Long said. “Now all of a sudden we have three.”

The fire charred the side entrance of the house and damaged the roof.

James Thomas, 29, said he was sleeping in a nearby bedroom when the fire was set. “I woke up and I saw a bright light outside the window,” Mr. Thomas said.

He ran outside and sprayed the fire with a garden hose that was just a few feet away, but he said he could see that the fire was climbing to the roof.

Mr. Thomas ran back in the house to wake his uncle and his 75-year-old grandmother to get them out of the burning house. He said his grandmother is in poor health and has difficulty moving.

“It’s sad,” he said outside the home yesterday. “It really upset me. I could have lost my grandmother or my uncle.”

In June 2003, the arsonist struck on the other side of the block. That fire killed Lou Edna Jones, 86, the only fatality in the string of arsons.

“It could have been the same story with my grandmother,” Mr. Thomas said.

Mr. Etter said firefighters put the fire out and ruled it arson after getting a response from an accelerant-sniffing dog.

“It was clear that someone used an accelerant to start this fire,” Mr. Etter said.

Mr. Thomas said investigators took away a charred T-shirt that was found nearby.

So far, 19 arsons and one attempted arson have occurred in the District. The arsonist has struck 17 times in Prince George’s County, three times in Fairfax County and once in Montgomery County and Alexandria.

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 on Sept. 14, 2003.

Miss Long said authorities are “moving away” from the sketch because they don’t want potential tipsters to rule out anyone they believe could be involved.

Anyone with any information about the arsonist is asked to call the task force tip line at 301/77-ARSON(27766).

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