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4 Fires, 2 Miles, 2 Weekends

Eileen Lorenz has never seen anything like this since becoming principal of Travilah Elementary School. Charred remains of a shed behind Travilah mark the spot of a suspicious fire set during Fourth of July weekend.

Just over a mile away, a shed by Stone Mill Elementary School was set ablaze in the early morning hours on Saturday, July 12. The fire completely burned the shed and extended to a day care center attached to the shed, doing $25,000 in damage to the structures.

County fire officials are investigating whether there is any relation between these and several other recent fires in the area that have caused a total of $750,000 in damage.

Fires were also set to a dumpster at Julius West Middle School and banners and a scoreboard at Wootton High School on Fourth of July weekend.

“It is definitely unprecedented,” said Lorenz.

“WE ARE LOOKING to see if there is a connection,” between these fires and ones set in Darnestown in April and June, said Pete Piringer spokesman for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue. “We believe Darnestown might be related. … There are some obvious similarities.”

Foremost among the similarities was the location of the fires, which took place within a two-mile radius. The incidents all took place after midnight, said Piringer.

Investigators brought an arson detection dog from Prince George’s County, and believe the Stone Mill fire was incendiary.

“The leading theory of the investigation is that the activity more than likely is related to juveniles,” said Piringer. “Schools are typically… targets of vandalism and horseplay.”

Piringer also mentioned that juveniles could more easily go to and from school property without being noticed.

ALL DAMAGE at Travilah Elementary will be repaired by the beginning of the school year, said Lorenz. “The fire support crew that came out was unbelievably efficient,” she said.

“I am sure that both Montgomery County security and other personnel are watching things very closely,” said Lorenz.

Eugene Roesser of Cabin John Fire and Rescue said that the fires have had little impact in the lower part of the county. “I’m sure [area schools] have been a bit more alert than they have been in the past,” said Roesser.

All of the fires have been in unoccupied buildings. “I think we’re just lucky that no firefighters have been injured,” said Piringer. “We obviously need help from the community to help to put an end to this.”

PENALTIES

Arson carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and a criminal fine of up to $30,000.

Malicious burning carries a maximum prison sentence of five years with a criminal fine of up to $5,000.