"Not eating chard. That's what all those weirdos eat at their stupid picnics on the Hungry Ghost lawn." -Nina

December 07, 2007

[UPDATED] Breaking:: Arson Confirmed In Recent Rash Of Fires On Hawley St.

Three More Fires Reported This Morning; Nine Total In Neighborhood This Year. Ward 3 Councilor To Set Up Ward-Wide Meeting With Residents And Officials.

The sign to the right has been plastered throughout the Hawley St. neighborhood, having been affixed to telephone poles just today. They were put up this evening by state fire investigators who are investigating a rash of fires in the neighborhood. Which ones and how many they are investigating is unclear. More information on this story should be forthcoming very soon. Click on the map below (zoom in or out if need be) for brief information on the location and dates of the nine reported fires this year in the area.

This evening, the Gazette online has reported three car fires set this morning. One on Hawley St., one on Market, and one on Summer St., bringing the total number of suspicious fires this year to nine. After the fifth suspicious fire in November, which the Daily Hampshire Gazette reported was suspected arson -as well as the previous four fires in the neighborhood- Northamptonist sent an email to the Fire Chief, among others.

"Was that an accurate statement by the Gazette? Does the NFD believe the recent rash of fires on Hawley St were arson? If so, can you offer any further information about this matter?"

Chief Duggan responded, "I appreciate your e-mail and concern. The fires you referenced remain under investigation. However, we do not believe that the recent car fire is related to the other incidents."

One of those incidents I believe the Gazette referenced was a blaze that destroyed a house on the corner of Hancock and Williams St., in June of 2006. That fire is not noted in the map above, though it is a suspected arson and which the nine latest fires this year followed.

After today's report in the Gazette, I sent another email to relevant parties, requesting they comment publicly about this issue, asking them to let us know what they know, and to inform residents on how best they can protect themselves. The residents of Northampton, and Ward 3 in particular, need information from officials, as best they can provide it. And we shouldn't have to wait until the tenth suspected arson occurs.

I was told by the Mayor's office this evening that the Mayor has been in constant contact with Police and Fire officials throughout the day today. As well, I have been informed by another source that Marilyn Richards, Ward 3 city councilor, said the city is taking the situation very seriously and has called in the state Fire Marshal for assistance regarding the recent fires. Marilyn will be meeting with the mayor, police chief, fire chief, and state fire marshal on Monday about the situation. She will set up a public ward-wide meeting with these officials to speak with the residents of the ward about the issue.

UPDATE Dec.08:: The Gazette has reported (sub. req'd) that the Northampton Police Department called a press conference yesterday afternoon to address this issue.

We really seem to be having a rash of them, said Assistant Fire Chief Duane A. Nichols. I don't want to say we have a serial arsonist, but we are concerned because of the geographical location.

Public safety officials are advising residents to keep their cars locked and urging them to call 911 if they spot any suspicious activity in their neighborhoods. They're also calling on residents to keep their trash indoors or in secure containers. Jan. 19, a fire that apparently started in a plastic trash barrel rendered uninhabitable a two-family home at 67 Hawley St. The house was later demolished.

Three days after that, a second trash-can fire broke out in front of 75 Hawley St., but it was extinguished by a passing motorist and neighborhood resident before firefighters arrived.

On June 25, 2006, a rooming house at 25 Hancock St. - which runs between Hawley Street and Pomeroy Terrace - burned to the ground. Investigators discovered a melted gas can at the scene and said the fire had been set intentionally. Soon after, authorities offered a $5,000 reward for anyone with information about who set the fire, yet the case remains unsolved.

A fire at the same address four months prior may also have been set deliberately. Police said a towel draped over a stove burner caught fire, spreading flames around the building's kitchen and into an apartment. Firefighters squelched the flames before they caused serious damage.
The Republican also has a report published today, and writes that Lt. Kenneth J. Watson said that police have no reason to believe the fires were connected, other than the fact that they occurred in the same neighborhood.

In a discussion about these fires via email today among members of the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association, of which I am a member, I noted the press conference and mentioned that I thought it would have been appropriate for the police to also have sent any info disseminated during the press conference along to residents of the Ward; either via our City Councilor or the Chair of the Association. Marilyn Richards, Ward 3 City Councilor responded,
Just wanted you to know that I was informed on Friday morning right after the fires. I spoke with the Chief directly as soon as we could both connect and we did discuss neighborhood outreach. I feel strongly that it should go through the Association...I will attend the meeting that has been arranged on Monday with the State Fire Marshall, Chief Duggan, Chief S. and the Mayor. I will learn more at this meeting about further details, the investigation and we will develop a neighborhood plan. More later as facts become available. In the mean time, lock cars and don't leave trash uncovered.
Labels: hawley st. neighborhood, notable news,