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Serial arsonist may be at work

A serial arsonist or two may be up to no good in the southwest area of Oak Harbor, police say.

An arsonist’s fire that destroyed a pristine older Cadillac on SW Barrington Drive last weekend was the third incident in the neighborhood in less than three months. Det. Carl Seim with Oak Harbor Police Department said he believes all the cases of arson may be connected.

The police and fire departments are offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those involved. The police have no leads.

While Seim doesn’t think the fires are linked to the serial arsonist in Seattle, he said “there could be a copycat.”

According to Seim, early in the morning of Saturday, Aug. 28, someone threw a couple of makeshift incendiary devices — basically Molotov cocktails — hitting two cars parked in the driveway of a SW Barrington Drive home.

One of the glass bottles filled with flammable liquid started a 1992 Cadillac on fire while the other broke without igniting. A neighbor driving by noticed smoke and fire coming from under the car and called police.

Battalion Chief Ray Merrill with Oak Harbor Fire Department said police officers arrived at the scene first and were able to extinguish the fire before firefighters arrived. He said it was lucky that the neighbor saw the fire.

“It could have gone to the house,” he said. “People could have very easily died.”

Lynnette Wright said she and

her husband, Mike, were in bed sleeping when the fire started. “We didn’t hear anything,” Wright said. “We didn’t know what happened until the police called us on the phone and woke us up.”

The fire destroyed the Cadillac and scorched the other car, a 1998 Buick, a little bit, Wright said. The windshield will have to be replaced because the heat caused the glass to bubble.

Seim said a police dog tracked the arsonist from the fire eastward, but the trail ended abruptly. He said the suspect probably got into a car and drove away at that point.

In the early morning of June 13, two fires started by arsonists caused an explosive $80,000 in damages. The perpetrator started a fire inside a camper attached to a 2000 Dodge Dakota parked in the driveway of Bruce Neil’s SW Kalama Loop home. The heat from the fire caused the relief valve on two propane tanks inside the camper to go off, shooting fireballs at a nearby 1997 Jeep Cherokee and the garage attached to the house.

The pickup, Jeep SUV and house were all ablaze when firefighters arrived and ended up badly damaged.

Shortly after the blaze was reported, police and fire got another call about a trash can on fire next to a vacant house just a couple blocks away on SW Barrington Drive. Two sailors who were driving by stopped the fire from igniting the house by pulling the burning can away from the house. Seim said the arsonists placed a gas can inside the trash can, put it next to the house and lit it on fire.

Several witnesses saw potential arson suspects run away from the scenes. The two sailors said they saw two men dressed in black run in front of them.

According to Seim, one witness saw two males in dark clothing running from the house fire on Kalama. They ran behind houses at the end of a cul-de-sac, then reappeared minutes later running across SW Barrington Drive to Kaleeton Loop. One of the males was wearing a “beany cap” and dark clothing and the other had on a dark hooded sweatshirt.

Another witness, Seim said, saw a group of four or five males carrying a red gas can in the area just minutes before the fires. The witnesses weren’t sure whether the potential suspects were adult men or teenagers.

Both Merrill and Seim said they have believe all three incidents could be related. Merrill pointed out that they were all “very amateurish.”

In southwest Oak Harbor, residents are on the lookout. Wright said her family has lived in the neighborhood for 18 years and they’ve never had any problem until this summer. She said she’s a little surprised that the arson occurred since people are coming, going in cars and even walking at all hours of the day.

She plans to keep the lights on at night. “It’s not that we’re all terrified or anything,” she said. “I guess we’re just being a bit more watchful.”

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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