Arson continues to plague Down East

Posted April 28, 2010, at 7:37 p.m.

PEMBROKE, Maine — Four more intentionally set grass fires were discovered in the Pembroke and Perry areas this week, part of a pattern of arson fires that may have included a camp and a home.

The tally is at least 35 fires since the snow has melted and the number is growing, Maine Forest Service Sgt. Courtney Hammond said Wednesday. The most recent were a grass fire in Pembroke on Sunday and three in Perry and Pembroke on Monday.

Hammond would not release the details of how each fire was started but said they were conclusively “of human element.”

The Forest Service also is working with the Maine Fire Marshal’s Office because it’s believed that a camp fire at Knowlton’s Campground in Perry and a fire that destroyed a home on Ox Cove Road in Pembroke may be related to the grass fires.

State officials are concerned to the point that extra Forest Service personnel, state fire marshals and airplane surveillance are being used to catch the people involved.

But Hammond said the search for suspects has been frustrating.

“There are no significant developments,” he said. “We have no suspects.”

Hammond said he is concerned because rain predicted for this week Down East has not shown up.

“If the temperatures rebound this weekend, we’ll be back in the same situation of dry conditions,” he said.

According to Hammond, a teenager was injured in a vehicle crash Sunday while racing to the latest grass fire.

“His father is the caretaker at a property across the road and he was coming to check on it,” Hammond said.

Two juveniles were in the car, which rolled over on Ox Cove Road near the fire scene. One teen suffered minor injuries and was taken to Down East Community Hospital in Machias for treatment.

Many of the Down East fires have burned less than a half-acre before being discovered and extinguished, but one fire on Monday burned more than 5 acres of grass, brush and trees, Hammond said.

A reward is being offered for information leading to the conviction of anyone responsible for the fires.

“We’re chasing every tip,” Hammond said. “Each tip is like a piece of the puzzle. Even a bit of minor information — a vehicle, people that seem out of place or not where they should be, things that are overheard — pass it on.”

The Maine Arson Wildfire Hotline is 800-987-0257.

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