DOVER – A former Peterborough firefighter was arraigned Tuesday afternoon on five counts of arson after investigators linked him to fires in Durham during the early morning hours of Feb. 2.
Gregory J. Potter, 22, of 69A Concord St., Peterborough, is accused of setting fire to five buildings, all with people sleeping inside, within a two-and-a-half-hour period.
Potter appeared by video arraignment in 7th Circuit Court, Dover District Division, and was charged with six felonies, including the five counts of arson as well as one count of falsifying physical evidence, along with three counts of misdemeanor criminal mischief.
Peterborough town administrator Pam Brenner said Potter served as an on-call firefighter in Peterborough from Jan. 1, 2011, until he "tendered his resignation" April 1.
"We became aware of the (arson) investigation in mid-February," Brenner said, and the town placed Potter on unpaid administrative leave Feb. 13 as a result. "We certainly felt it was appropriate," Brenner said. She refused further comment about Potter's time as a firefighter citing confidentiality laws about personnel matters.
Potter, who has remained in Strafford County jail since his arrest Monday, did not have much to say during his video arraignment.
He is accused of starting fires in occupied structures at 15 Main St. at 1:06 a.m., 6 Main St. at 1:45 a.m., 19 Main St. at 2:30 a.m., 20 Main St. at 2:48 a.m., and 4 Smith Park Lane at 3:30 a.m. As a result, police say the fires also damaged a Ford Explorer, a Nissan Maxima and a Volkswagon Golf, which were all parked next to the 4 Smith Park Lane building, according to court records.
Investigators say Potter deleted six photos from his cellular phone, sometime between Feb. 2 and Feb. 26.
Before agreeing to keep bail at $100,000 cash only, Judge Sawako Gardner entered no plea on Potter's behalf. Potter is scheduled to appear for a probable cause hearing Sept. 26 at 10 a.m.
Due to the nature of the charges and the fact that people were sleeping inside the buildings, assistant county attorney Tim Sullivan felt Potter is a danger to the community.
"There were residents in all of them – this is a residential area," Sullivan said.
"At this time, a straight cash bail is sufficient," Sullivan said, adding if Potter is released, there is little authorities could do to prevent him from starting other fires, even if he's monitored by the Strafford County community corrections program via GPS.
When asked if a motive had been determined, Sullivan said it was unclear what drove Potter to set the fires.
"He was in the area visiting friends," Sullivan said, adding he does not expect any further charges as the seven-month investigation is complete.
Investigators from Durham police were assisted by members of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the N.H. State Fire Marshal's Office, the Strafford County Attorney's Office, the N.H. State Police Crime Lab, the UNH Police Department and the Durham Fire Department.