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Security Guard Arrested In Md. Arson Case

Environmentalists Cleared

BALTIMORE - December 16, 2004 - Federal prosecutors are confirming the arrest of a security guard in connection with arson fires that ravaged a new housing development in suburban Washington D.C.

A source told the AP that 21-year-old Aaron Speed -- who worked at the development -- will appear in federal court Friday.

He worked for Security Services of America, which was hired to guard the Hunters Brooke subdivision, in Indian Head.

Neighbors told WBAL-TV in Baltimore that they saw investigators tow a car and taking computers and other items from Speed's home during a search Wednesday night.

Fire damaged 26 homes at the site on Dec. 6, causing $10 million in damage. Ten homes were severely damaged. No one was hurt, but authorities say it was the largest residential arson case in Maryland history.

Local, state and federal authorities are involved in the case.

The prosecution statement said nothing about a motive. Early speculation was that the fires were set by environmentalists who believed the upscale houses were a threat to a nearby bog.

The maximum penalty for arson is 20 years imprisonment.


Investigators Leave Md. Arson Scene, Cameras Move In
New Pictures Show Fires' Intensity

December 10, 2004 - New pictures of the homes destroyed in Maryland fires show just how intense Monday's arson fires were, reported WBAL-TV in Baltimore.

The scene of the fires was sealed off most of the week as investigators gathered evidence. That task was finished late Thursday.

Authorities allowed cameras at the scene Friday morning that provided a much closer view of the extensive damage caused early Monday morning.

Ten homes in the Hunter's Brooke subdivision were destroyed and 16 were damaged. A closer inspection of the homes reveals how the arsonists intended even more damage, but did not succeed in fully igniting about 10 homes, the television station reported.

The pictures also show evidence of the intensity of the fires. Pictures of neighboring homes that were not set on fire showed melted siding, a result of the heat generated by a house that did burn across the street.

Investigators said that kind of intensity further indicates an ignitable liquid was used to get the fires going.

With all the crime scene technicians gone Friday, the place had a certain eeriness about it.

"It almost doesn't look real. It's like a movie set or something of that nature," Charles County Sheriff's Capt. Joseph Montiminy said. "At this point, everybody's left the scene, and it's just amazing the damage that's done and how many lives have been disrupted because of this."

Investigators believe more than one arsonist was involved because so many fires were set in such a short period of time.

As for the evidence collected, one source expressed confidence Friday that those responsible will be identified because of the significant amount of evidence that survived the fires, in addition to interviews.

One interviewee is a security guard who was on duty early Monday morning in the subdivision. He left his shift early, before the fires started.

As for motive, authorities have not ruled out any possibilities. Investigators hope the work now being done on the evidence in the lab might produce some clues about that as well.


Arson Fires Deemed Worst In Maryland History

Investigators Comb Burned Homes For Evidence

INDIAN HEAD, Md. - December 7, 2004 - Fire investigators are searching for evidence in the rubble of dozens of torched houses in what's being called the worst arson fire in Maryland State history.

According to Faron Taylor, a deputy state fire marshal, more than 20 federal, local and state investigators searched for forensic evidence.

Some $10 million in damage was done at 26 homes at the Hunters Brooke subdivision, near Indian Head in Charles County. And, Taylor said, 12 homes were destroyed.

Investigators say seven of the fires have been positively identified as cases of arson.

The fires were reported before 5 a.m. Monday, drawing firefighters from Charles and three other counties to the 319-unit subdivision about 25 miles south of Washington, Charles County spokeswoman Nina Voehl said.

The homes, in a development next to an environmental preserve, were priced between $400,000 and $500,000.

The pricey new subdivision has been the subject of a lawsuit between environmentalists and the Army Corps of Engineers. FBI spokesman Barry Maddox said FBI agents examined the scene, and ecoterrorism was one of the motives that would be investigated.

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The Sierra Club called the development "quintessential sprawl" in its Fall 2000 sprawl report, noting it is far from existing infrastructure and "threatens a fragile wetland and important historical sites near the Chesapeake Bay."

The Sierra Club later issued a statement saying it "strongly condemns all acts of violence in the name of the environment."


FBI: Ecoterrorism Possible Motive For Maryland Fires

Fire Marshals: 12 Homes Destroyed, 29 Others Damaged

INDIAN HEAD, Md. - December 6, 2004 - An FBI agent said arson fires at an affluent Maryland development in suburban Washington, D.C., may have been set by ecoterrorists.

FBI investigators said they are checking into all possible motives for the early morning arson fires, which caused an estimated $10 million in damage to the homes, which were under construction.

Officials say the four-alarm fire in Indian Head destroyed 12 homes and damaged 29 others, despite the fact that the buildings were relatively spread out and had been soaked by rain recently.

Investigators say the houses were on lots of about ¼ acre each -- and overall, the fire spread across 10 acres.

"A number of houses have been burned by fire. It's sporadic, they're not in a line, there's one here, one there," said Charles County spokeswoman Nina Voehl. She also said one of the houses burned was occupied, but there have been no injuries.

Environmental groups have criticized the development for years because it sits next to a nature preserve. A Sierra Club report had criticized the development as "quintessential sprawl" that threatens "fragile" wetlands and historical sites. After the fires, the Sierra Club issued a statement saying it "strongly condemns all acts of violence in the name of the environment."

All the homes that burned were under construction and ranged in price from $400,000 to $500,000, said W. Faron Taylor, a deputy state fire marshal.

WRC-TV in Washington, D.C., talked to one man who saw the reports on the news and drove by to try and find out if his house was one of those involved. He said the house was supposed to be an early Christmas present for him and his wife.

"My wife and I, we're due to close in about two days. We go to settlement in two days," Jacque Hightower said. "We woke up this morning and looked at the news and my wife screamed, 'Our house is on fire!' I came down here to find out what's going on. We don't even know if it affected our house or anything."

 

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