Serial Arsonist Suspected in String of Fires

Barre, Vt. has seen at least 4 suspicious fires officials say appear to be the work of the same arsonist

Fire investigators, law enforcement officials and city leaders in the central Vermont community of Barre say at least four suspicious fires in August appear to be the work of the same arsonist or arsonist.

The fires were similar in nature, Chief Tim Bombardier of the Barre City Police Department told reporters Tuesday, though he declined to go into detail because of the ongoing investigation.

The suspected firebug has struck a vacant apartment building, two storage structures and a vacant, historic bed-and-breakfast, Bombardier said. The former Reynolds House B&B went up in flames just after midnight Tuesday, he said.

"Once you, as an individual, have set a fire, you have lost control of your actions," Bombardier observed, describing the danger of the situation.

All told, the fires caused around a million or more dollars in damage, Mayor Thom Lauzon of Barre speculated.

"It's just very difficult to catch somebody who's obviously working in the middle of the night who doesn't want to be caught," added Steve Mackenzie, Barre's city manager.

While firefighters were on the scene of the B&B fire, a call came in for another emergency. That one was a bit different from the rest; it was in an occupied home. Investigators were not ready to say it was the same arsonist, because there were some differences in the cases, Bombardier told New England Cable News. But the chief did say that fire was also suspicious.

"It hits too close to home," said Damian Barnett, who said he was sleeping at his mom and stepdad's place when he says he woke up at 4 a.m. to the sound of popping.

The side of the home was on fire, Barnett said, and his mother's car was melting. Police and firefighters were still at the Reynolds House scene, when they rushed to answer Barnett's call to put out these flames.

"It's just unnerving and whoever thought this was a joke or something fun: find something else to do better with your time," he told NECN.

Even though investigators have not linked that suspicious fire to the others, Barnett told NECN he theorizes it was the same suspect.

"What other explanation is there?" he asked.

Outside the home where Barnett was staying, there were small gasoline containers stored under a car port, NECN observed. They had small amounts of fuel in them, Barnett said. He said an arson investigation team visited the property and collected evidence.

Vermont State Police are providing Barre extra resources like detectives and patrols, said Col. Tom L'Esperance, the State Police commander. Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn stressed the urgency of the search for the arsonist and his commitment to help the city breathe a sigh of release through pursuing an arrest.

Mayor Lauzon urged neighborhoods to be vigilant and call police if something doesn't seem right.

"If you see something, say something," Lauzon said. "If you hear your dog barking in the middle of the night, rather than just asking him to quiet down, get up and please figure out why the dog is barking."

The phone number for tips is 1-800-32-ARSON. Officials urged community members to call that number, or Barre City Police at 802-476-6613. No bit of information is too insignificant, Lauzon said, especially with the safety of property owners and firefighters on the line.

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