Police, fire officials ask Greenwood residents to help them find arsonist
Seattle police and fire officials tonight asked several hundred Greenwood neighborhood residents to be their eyes and ears as they try to halt a string of at least 14 arsons since June.
Seattle Times environment reporter
The Fire Department has issued an appeal for anyone with information that might be related to the arsons to call the Arson Alarm Hotline at 800-55-ARSON (552-7766). A $10,000 reward has been established for information leading to the arrest of the arsonist.
Seattle police and fire officials asked several hundred Greenwood neighborhood residents to be their eyes and ears as they try to halt a string of at least 14 arsons since June.
"If you see something, say something," Assistant Seattle Police Chief Paul Mcdonagh told several hundred people packed in a church basement Tuesday night. "Call 911."
Authorities called the meeting after as many as five fires since last Thursday were set behind commercial buildings, against the back wall of a restaurant and on the porch of an accounting business. Two weeks earlier, another fire was set in the Green Bean Coffee House and spread to three other restaurants. It caused about $2 million in damage and destroyed all four businesses. It also caused extensive water and smoke damage at the adjoining Taproot Theatre.
McDonagh told residents and business owners that arsonists can be difficult to stop, even with a $25,000 award — the amount currently being offered by the Taproot, the Northwest Insurance Council and Arson Alarm Foundation for information leading to the apprehension of the arsonist. But, McDonagh said, community members can really make a difference. He said fire and police officials were conducting regular patrols, both visible and covert, to keep watch for suspicious behavior, and that those patrols already had helped catch two fires before they spread.
Still, authorities need residents to keep them informed of suspicious behavior, McDonagh said.
"You know what's normal for your neighborhood," he said, adding that he'd rather respond to a call that turns out to be nothing than have residents fail to report something suspicious because they think it might be too minor.
Investigators told the crowd the fire-setters seem to use whatever flammable material they find handy — at one blaze fire officials found combustibles that had come from a mile away — and the pattern has been to set fires at ground level.
Assistant Seattle Fire Chief A.D. Vickery, a 37-year resident of the North Seattle neighborhood, asked people to keep trash receptacles closed and locked, avoid allowing paper and cardboard to build up outside their buildings and call 911 any time they see something suspicious, even if it's just smoke that could be from a nearby chimney.
"Even if there is (just) an odor of smoke, we're going to send a couple of units," he said.
The fires have clearly rattled the neighborhood. So many people packed the fellowship hall of Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church at 75th and Greenwood Avenue, that the fire marshal started the meeting by pointing out the exits and declaring that the crowd already exceeded the building's capacity, "stretching my comfort zone."
Several hundred more people waited upstairs, but the crowd remained polite and courteous, applauding a Greenwood-Phinney Chamber of Commerce member who said the organization would soon have a fund set up to help struggling fire victims.
Authorities said they hoped to have a Web site up and running this week with links to Seattle police and Seattle fire departments to keep the community apprised of the investigation's progress and to offer advice and answer more questions. They might also hold another neighborhood meeting in a bigger venue.
Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 or email@example.com
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