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Information sought on series of suspicious fires in Durham

DURHAM - The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is offering an award of up to $3,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who set five fires on Feb. 2 in downtown Durham, one that caused extensive damage to a barn and breezeway connected to a historic home.

ATF, the federal law enforcement agency with jurisdiction in arson investigations, is offering the reward for information about the fires that occurred at 6 Main St., 15 Main St., 19 Main St., 20 Main St. and 4 Smith Park Lane.

"Arsons have a devastating effect on our communities. Arsons not only result in the loss of income and the loss of property, but they also endanger the lives of firefighters who respond to these fires and who protect our communities," said Eugenio A. Marquez, acting special agent in charge of the ATF Boston Field Division.

The first fire was reported at 1:06 a.m. on Feb. 2 at 15 Main St. Deputy Police Chief Rene Kelley said the blaze started inside a student apartment.

About 90 minutes later, at 2:38 a.m., a fire was reported at 20 Main St. That blaze, Kelley said, started in the rear of the building and burned through the wall and into a student apartment.

Several University of New Hampshire students were displaced by it.

Less than an hour later, at 3:30 a.m, a fire was reported at 4 Smith Park Lane.

A barn, which included an apartment and where antiques were stored, was set on fire.

The blaze went to four alarms and required firefighters from about a dozen communities to extinguish it.

Two people were displaced because of the blaze, which destroyed the barn and breezeway.

After those fires were publicized, investigators learned about two more fires set that morning at 6 Main St. and 19 Main St.

The fire department was not notified when they happened because people who discovered them put them out, Kelley explained.

Anyone who witnessed anything suspicious that morning is asked to call Durham police at 603-868-2324, the New Hampshire State Police Arson Hotline at 1-800-400-3526, or the ATF Arson Hotline at 1-800-ATF-FIRE (1-800-283-3473). Callers may remain anonymous, Kelley said.

Durham police and fire, the state Fire Marshal's Office and ATF are jointly investigating the fires.


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