Alexandria has entered the sphere of the Washington area's serial arsonist. At least that is the conclusion of the Arson Task Force and local officials.
This past Sunday night, a residence in the 4400 block of West Braddock Road caught fire. The profile of that blaze had all the identifiers of the previous 31 cases believed to be attributable to a serial arsonist, according to Task Force data.
It matched the time of day: between midnight and 6 a.m.; the location of the fire: an exterior element of the structure; and the material used to start the fire: an ignitable fluid.
"This all fits the profile," said Fire Chief Ronald D. Blackwell, Prince Georges County Fire and EMS Department, and leader of the Arson Task Force.
"Estimated damage to the Alexandria residence is approximately $10,000. Damages in most of the other incidences have been relatively small, in the $2,000 to $3,000 range," Blackwell confirmed.
This was the first attack by this serial arsonist in Virginia, according to authorities. "Of the 32 cases, 12 have been in Prince Georges, 18 in D.C., one attempted in D.C., and now this one in Alexandria," Blackwell said.
The task force is investigating more than 300 leads. It has received approximately 100 tips on the Alexandria case, Blackwell said.
AFTER ANSWERING the call, Alexandria Fire Department notified the Arson Task Force. Evidence collected at the scene was sent to the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) National Laboratories for analysis, the Task Force confirmed.
"I met with [Alexandria Fire] Chief [Gary] Mesaris and other Alexandria officials on Monday, and they have agreed to commit staff and resources to the Arson Task Force," Blackwell said. "We also encourage anyone who saw or heard anything unusual to contact us immediately. There is a $25,000 reward associated with this case."
Mesaris said, "In light if what is going on throughout the region, we want to contribute all we can. We have assigned an investigator to work with the Task Force in the field, and I will participate at the executive level."
The Task Force meets regularly to compare notes and exchange ideas and information. Mesaris noted he will attend his first meeting of that group this week.
The Task Force — composed of D.C., Maryland, ATF, and now the Alexandria Fire Department — has established a tip line. It is 301-77ARSON. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. "For those who do not have access to a computer, we also have a mailing address. It is Arson Task Force, Box 211, Bladensburg, MD," Blackwell said.
IN THE CASE of the Alexandria fire, the blaze was quickly extinguished, and there were no injuries. One person was in the home at the time and was alerted by the smoke alarm, Blackwell said.
The home was described as a two-story, frame structure located on the grounds of the Lynn House Christian Science Nursing Facility. It is located near Interstate 395.
Believed to have commenced in March 2003, all 32 cases have now been identified as "similar in nature" by the Task Force, which is composed of 10 "state, local and federal agencies," according to Blackwell. Eleven of the cases have been "conclusively linked through physical evidence," the Task Force confirmed.
Investigators have been working with an ATF behavioral profiler who specializes in the study of arson and explosives. Based on research and extensive investigation, the Task Force believes the arsonist or arsonists may demonstrate some or all of the following traits and characteristics: alcohol abuse, reckless driving or unsafe practices at work, a criminal history, shifting blame to others when things go wrong, never admits to any fault, lies a great deal, lacks normal empathy or concern for the rights of others, and has difficulty controlling and dealing with anger.