LACONIA — Police and fire officials continue to investigate a dozen suspicious fires, one that caused close to $2 million in damage, occurring over a six-week period beginning Sept. 22, with the most recent occurring in the early morning hours on Oct. 30.
Police Capt. Bill Clary, who is heading the city's investigation, said each blaze is being investigated as a standalone fire; none yet has been linked.
The first fire happened about 2:30 a.m. on Sept. 22 at the Skate Escape, 161 Court St., a 60,000-square-foot building that housed several other businesses including Northeast Electrical Soultions, Little Caesar's Pizza, ABC Fabrication and the linen laundry facility for Lakes Region General Hospital.
Fire Chief Ken Erickson said initially the damage was estimated at about $1 million but is expected to climb to about $2 million. Skate Escape, he said, had just moved out of the building.
About 4 1/2 hours later that same morning and about 1,000 feet away, another building caught fire on Bay Street which, Erickson said, firefighters quickly extinguished.
Things were quiet in the city until six days later when on Sept. 28 at 2:16 a.m., a fire was reported at Pitman Freight Room, 94 New Salem St., not far from the Laconia police station. Simultaneously, three other fires were reported in a Dumpster, a shed and fence in an alley within 500 feet of the jazz club. Erickson said initially it was reported that two buildings were on fire because of the blazing Dumpster, which rested against Hector's Restaurant.
"Boy, you fly out of bed when your hear that," Erickson said.
Firefighters kept the blaze from damaging Hector's, the chief said.
That same night at 8:48 p.m., the vacant Christmas Island Resort Motel was heavily damaged in another multi-alarm blaze that caused an estimated $600,000 in damage. The motel, Erickson said, was slated to be demolished.
Then about 3 a.m. on Oct. 30, fire struck the Pitman Freight Room for the second time. Repairs had only just been completed and the owners were readying to reopen Halloween night when flames caused another $30,000 in damage. Several other fires were also set that morning in the alley behind the old factory buildings on Water Street.
In all, Erickson said there have been 12 separate fires — four of them multi-alarm blazes. All but one of them — Christmas Island Motel fire — took place between 2 and 3 a.m. in the downtown area of the city. All of the fires are within walking distance of each other.
He said in the late '80s and early '90s, an arsonist caused a series of major fires in the city. And then, he said, they just stopped. No one was ever arrested.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was involved in the investigation into the fire at the Christmas Island Resort Motel. Police, fire and the state Fire Marshal's Office are jointly investigating all of the blazes.
Investigators are seeking the public's help in solving the arsons. Anyone with information is asked to call police, fire or the Greater Laconia Crime Line, where a caller to 524-1717 may remain anonymous.