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Arson on the rise in Martinsburg

April 17, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD
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MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- In the first three months of 2010, the Martinsburg Fire Department has investigated 10 cases of arson, which is more than the number of fires intentionally set in the city in all of 2009.

Six of this year's arsons have occurred within a three-by-three block area of the city, said Lt. Greg Hoover, the city's chief fire investigator.

While authorities still are looking for suspects, fire officials have been advising residents to keep trash, furniture and other combustible items cleaned up outside, secure mail slots at night, and check on the operation of security and surveillance cameras.

Hoover said authorities have concluded that some of the arsons appear to be related because they were set in a similar manner.

Fires at Harvest Lighthouse Ministries at 104 E. Martin St., SERVPRO at 717 West Virginia Ave. and Psychological Consulting Inc. at 431 S. Raleigh St. were started after gasoline was poured through the mail slot in the door and ignited, Hoover said.

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At SERVPRO, the arsonist shielded his identity with a white sheet, apparently realizing that surveillance camera equipment was installed there, Hoover said.

Gasoline and an unspecified accelerant also were used in a fire at the former Interwoven Mill building at 610 W. John St. and a fire started in the back of a pickup truck that was parked at 512B Wilson St., Hoover said.

In the pickup fire, the accelerant was poured on tires that were loaded on the truck, Hoover said.

Several other arsons involved the ignition of materials sitting outside of structures.

Cardboard was ignited on the back porch in a fire at 209 S. Raleigh St. and trash was set on fire in the backyard in another fire at 215 S. Raleigh St., Hoover said.

Trash also was set on fire behind a home at 210 Winchester Ave., Hoover said.

Authorities are not sure when vegetation was set on fire behind 417 S. Raleigh St., but that fire extinguished itself, Hoover said.

That fire was discovered March 10 after firefighters responded to Psychological Consulting for the fire there, Hoover said.

Most of the fires have started in the early morning hours, ranging between after midnight and about 7 a.m., according to a list of the arsons the fire department has released.

The number of arsons so far this year dwarfs the total number of intentionally set fires in 2009 (three), 2007 (four) and 2006 (four), according to the fire department's annual reports.

In 2008, fire investigators ruled that seven structure fires, one vehicle fire and six other miscellaneous fires were intentionally set, according to the fire department.

Anyone with information about the fires may call the Martinsburg Fire Department at 304-264-2111, Martinsburg Police Department at 304-264-2100, West Virginia Arson Hotline at 1-800-233-FIRE or Berkeley County Crime Solvers at 304-267-4999.

A reward of up to $2,500 is being offered for information leading to an arrest.

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