Reward offered for information in Swampscott condo arson

By Andrew Hickey

Staff writer

SWAMPSCOTT -- The early morning blaze that tore through an under-construction luxury condominium complex last week was deliberately set and the state fire marshal's office is putting up $5,000 for details leading to an arrest.

"We definitely know it's arson," Fire Investigator Robert Surette said yesterday of the blaze that ravaged the multi-million dollar waterfront condos at 225 Humphrey St.

But who started the fire remains under investigation and no arrests have been made, Surette said. The Police Department, Fire Department and fire marshal's office have conducted countless interviews and plan on many more.

"We're going to find out who did it somehow. We're interviewing a ton of people and trying to see if the stories match up," Surette said.

Investigators provided little information yesterday about how the fire was started on the first floor of the nearly completed Ocean Watch complex, which was supposed to open for tenants in July, and Surette wouldn't speculate on how the fire started but said there are several rumors circulating about who could've sparked the blaze.

"The kids are talking in the schools," he said, adding residents have been calling in tips since the investigation started.

While residents have given investigators several leads and a great deal of useful information, the fire marshal's ArsonWatch Reward Program is offering a reward for information that leads police to the suspect, or suspects.

Signs advertising the reward will be posted throughout town, including at the fire scene, schools and other spots in the community.

The posters read, "Reward up to $5,000. If you know who did this, call 1-800-682-9229."

Police and fire crews responded just after 1 a.m. April 22, after receiving a stream of 911 calls reporting heavy fire spewing from the top of the upscale complex, which houses six units starting at about $1.5 million each, and two built under the state's affordable housing laws which were to be offered to low- to moderate-income families for $173,000.

The blaze was quickly upgraded to four alarms, and firefighters from nine communities battled the flames for hours before getting it under control. In its wake, the blaze left the top floor and the west side building almost completely destroyed and caused an estimated $2 million in damage, Surette said.

Once the fire was out, state troopers brought in arson-sniffing dogs. The dogs found accelerants, such as gasoline, but investigators said such substances are common at construction sites.

Steve Hirsch, a developer of the complex, has said the fire set back completion of the project about four or five months, but the damaged condos will be rebuilt.

Construction of the condos started last year and four units were already sold. The units are advertised as offering "spectacular views of Swampscott, Nahant and Boston."

Staff reporter Andrew Hickey can be reached at (978) 338-2525 or by e-mail at