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Williamsport fire official appeals for help after rash of fires

August 09, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WILLIAMSPORT

andrews@herald-mail.com

Williamsport Volunteer Fire Co. Chief Will Ball said he spent many sleepless nights trying to spot whoever has been setting fires in town.

On Monday, at the Williamsport Town Council's monthly meeting, Ball and Maryland Deputy State Fire Marshal Ed Ernst appealed for help.

Ball said there have been 16 suspicious fires in the last six months, probably connected, in the area of North Vermont and Potomac streets, from the Sheetz store to the C&O Canal basin.

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"It's starting to get pretty serious because they're starting to set parts of structures on fire," he said.

In a telephone interview before the meeting, Ball said a trash can, a flag, a chair and other small items from porches were set on fire.

He said all of the fires have come at the same time of night - between midnight and 3 a.m.

During the meeting, Ernst said some fires were close to buildings and, therefore, potentially more dangerous - a trash can under an air conditioning unit, for example.

A vehicle was set on fire, causing thousands of dollars of damage, Ernst said.

In another case, someone set a fire that burned the outside wall of an apartment at 41 W. Potomac St., Ball said during an interview.

A Washington County Sheriff's Department deputy noticed the fire and helped get the occupants out, he said.

The fire was caught early, so the damage was kept to about $10,000 to $15,000, building owner Harry Thron Jr. said in a phone interview Monday afternoon.

Thron said the building, which has three units, has been restored.

Still, six months later, he's looking forward to the arsonist being caught.

Authorities have tried. Ball said he staked out the neighborhood hoping to catch someone. It didn't work.

Ball said authorities kept word of the fires to themselves until they realized they could use the public's help.

He urged anyone with information to call the Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office at 301-791-4758. People also may call Washington County's nonemergency dispatch line at 240-313-2910.

Ernst asked the public to report suspicious people and activities in that area late at night and to set out trash cans away from their homes.

Ball said firefighters were going door-to-door Monday to give out fliers alerting residents of the arsons.

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