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It’s been a busy year for arson investigations in Manchester

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 12. 2013 9:13PM
A surveillance camera captured this image of a man who police would like to question in an arson fire in the alley outside 22 Concord St. in Manchester on Aug. 3. (COURTESY)

MANCHESTER — Manchester Fire Department investigator Peter Lennon said his office has assisted in the investigation of 68 possible arsons, including two in other jurisdictions, so far this year.

“About 10 ahead of last year,” he said. Seventeen were definitely arson fires and nine of them may be, he said.Lennon and Manchester Police Detective Timothy Patterson are currently investigating arson activity Aug. 3 in the alley next to the Firefly Restaurant, 22 Concord St.

Firefighters responded to a mattress fire about 2:30 that Saturday morning. The mattress fire damaged a wooden door. Video surveillance footage shows a person walking through the alley, stopping to try to light fires along the way.

“We definitely rely on the public,” said Lennon.

“No matter how small it is,” he said, it could be the key piece of the puzzle that results in the arrest of an arsonist.

Lennon said there have been five arson arrests so far this year. There was also one juvenile arrest in connection with an arson fire in April at a city elementary school.

Patterson said a fire in a Central Street basement three years ago wasn’t clearly arson, but an obvious arson fire a year later in a second-floor kitchen, eliminated any doubt. A Massachusetts woman was arrested May 31 on warrants connected to those fires.

Bedford (Mass.) Police arrested Fatomeh Carroll, 50, on fugitive warrants in connection with fires at 287 Central St. Aug. 28, 2010, and Oct. 31, 2011. Bail was set at $20,000 cash/surety.

A probable cause hearing was scheduled for Carroll June 5 in Circuit Court-Manchester District Division on two felony arson charges and the charges were bound over to the Hillsborough County North Grand Jury.

Patterson and Lennon said people set fires for a variety of reasons: for profit, to punish or “get even” with someone, out of boredom or because of a compulsion. It’s people in that last category, like certain kinds of sex offenders, that are of particular concern.

It’s why fire officials keep track of arsonists who remain in the city or move here after release on probation or parole.

Lennon said he’s aware of 23 such people in Manchester, although not all of them committed their crime or crimes here.

Education isn’t a solution for this group, but Lennon said education can help many in the largest group of fire setters — juveniles.

“About half of all arson fires are set by juveniles,” he said.

That includes children as young as 4 and Manchester has had a program for juveniles, up to age 17, since the early 1990s.

Even with the youngest fire starters, Lennon said, “We call it ‘misuse’ of fire, not ‘playing’ with fire.”

And don’t try to dismiss a fire-starting incident as “just a small fire,” Lennon said. “All fires start small.”

Parents must participate in the intervention program, hosted at the Office of Youth Services. Parents are talked to about where they keep smoking materials, candles and other potential fire sources. If youngsters complete the program, he said, they don’t usually become repeat offenders.

Patterson said the fact that arson tends to be a solitary crime also makes it difficult to solve. In the case of the Aug. 3 fire in the alley, trash cans and mattresses in alleys were targets of opportunity, likely not a planned arson, he said.Anyone with information about an arson can call police at 668-8711 or remain anonymous by calling Manchester Crimeline at 624-4040 or the Manchester Fire Tipline at 644-FIRE.

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