Turn in arsonist, get $11K reward

John Ruch

Latest fire said to be accidental

The $11,000 reward for giving information that leads to the arrest of a suspect in Jamaica Plain’s string of arsons is being promoted again by frustrated Arson Squad investigators.

“They really need someone to give them a hint,” said Boston Fire Department (BFD) spokesperson Steve MacDonald. “There has to be someone in the public who knows something about these cases.”

MacDonald also provided updates on two notable fires. A December blaze on Sigourney Street—near two of the arson scenes—has been ruled unintentional. But a 2006 Washington Street fire that was considered probably accidental is still officially unsolved and could be a case of arson.

At least eight arson fires have burned JP homes and businesses since 2005, with the last known blaze coming 10 months ago. The arsons include: July 18, 2005, El Oriental de Cuba restaurant, 416 Centre St.; March 24, 2006, Maria’s Hair Fashion and others, 138-142 South St.; Aug. 21, 2006, Century 21 Pondside Realty and others, 619 Centre St.; Dec. 11, 2008, 12 Sigourney St., house; Jan. 6, 2009, Maria’s Hair Fashion, 138A South St.; Jan. 28, 2009, 111 School St., house; Feb. 7, 2009, 20-22 Sigourney St., house; April 29, 2009, JP Auto Body, 18 Rock Hill Road.

Young, light-skinned men were seen fleeing the scene of three of those fires. At Sigourney Street, a security camera captured footage of the arsonist—also apparently a younger, light-skinned man.

A January 2008 arson fire at a second Maria’s Hair Fashion location in Hyde Park is considered as probably connected to the JP fires. An Aug. 17, 2006 business fire at 3724 Washington St. reportedly appeared to be an accidental electrical fire and accelerant-sniffing dogs were not called in, but arson still has not been ruled out. MacDonald said the Washington Street fire is an “open investigation.”

The wide variety of targets and methods in the arsons have confused the public and, it seems, investigators as well. John DeHaan, one of the world’s top arson experts, previously told the Gazette that a criminal extortion gang is probably behind the arsons, along with some copycat criminals.

A recent fire in a house under construction at 24 Sigourney St. was a case of spontaneous combustion in rags that were used to wipe up solvents or paint, MacDonald said. In spontaneous combustion, the natural oxidation of solvents in a place that does not have good ventilation builds up enough heat to reach the burning point.

The JP arsons are being investigated by the Arson Squad—a team-up of BFD and the Boston Police Department—along with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The arson investigators recently visited a meeting of the local E-13 Police Station’s Problem Properties Committee at the committee’s request, according to member Michael Reiskind.

Reiskind said the investigators reviewed the arsons and announced the renewed publicizing of the reward, which includes $10,000 from arson investigators and $1,000 from local City Councilor John Tobin. Reiskind said the investigators are giving reward signs to local Main Streets organizations to post around the neighborhood.

He also said that investigators reported still having undercover patrol cars in the area of former arsons.

Anyone with information about any of the fires can contact the Arson Squad at 617-343-3324 or anonymously by calling 1-800-494-8477 or by texting the word “TIP” to 27463.

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