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Arsonist strikes S-W

A fire investigator photographs the scene of an arson fire that destroyed a Sedro-Woolley house on Ball Street early this morning.
Scott Terrell / Skagit Valley Herald
One home is completely destroyed

At least one arsonist set a series of fires early this morning in Sedro-Woolley, burning about 14 cars and three structures completely destroying a home and sending firefighters from seven departments racing from one blaze to another.

"This is unusual for Sedro-Woolley," police Chief Doug Wood said. "We've never had anything like this."

The owner of the gutted home, a 79-year-old man, suffered smoke inhalation from the fire at his house in the 200 block of North Ball Street, Wood said.

"I believe neighbors saw the fire, went in, woke him up and got him out," Wood said.

The intentionally set fires occurred in roughly 10 separate locations in neighborhoods east of the city's downtown, Wood said. Two homes, including the destroyed one, and a garage were set on fire.

The homes in this area of the city are older, many built between 1910 and 1970. Sedro-Woolley has about 9,300 residents, according to state estimates.

Wood's sentiment was echoed by fire department Battalion Chief Gerald Chandler as he stood directing operations, at the gutted three-bedroom, single-story home on North Ball Street.

"We usually don't see a house fire here that is fully involved," Chandler said.

Red tape barred passersby from the home, a spacious rambler that had been decorated with reddish tan rock. The home was set back from the street with a manicured lawn and shaded by tall evergreen trees.

The blaze had consumed the cedar shake roof, leaving the home's walls open to the sky.

This morning, Chandler said it was too early in the investigation to determine where the fire started.
These burned cars on Central Street in Sedro-Woolley were among several that were torched early this morning.
Scott Terrell / Skagit Valley Herald
However, the worst damage appeared to be to the two-car garage.

Remnants of white foam lay on the driveway and grass. The foam is a chemical fire suppressant that firefighters place in some of their firetrucks to help extinguish fires.

The son of the homeowner told the Skagit Valley Herald that his father was with friends this morning and planned to rebuild. He declined to be interviewed.

Reports of the fires began to come in at 2:48 a.m. today with a car ablaze on State Street, near the intersection of Sixth Street, according to Skagit 911 dispatch records. Then, a caller to 911 reported a home in the 700 block of Southern Avenue was on fire.

From that point on firefighters were called to roughly 17 reports of fires, with the last report coming in just before 7 a.m., Wood said.

Just around the corner from State and Sixth streets, where a black car had been burned, fire engulfed two vehicles, a black Ford Thunderbird and a Jeep, parked in front of a two-story home in the 800 block of Central Street.

Crime scene tape was strewn about the neighborhood. Near each blaze, firefighters and police stood by to keep crime scenes intact for detectives.

As of this morning, detectives and fire investigators had just begun to investigate and had not determined if the fires were caused by one arsonist, Wood said.

Wood said he has asked Mount Vernon police detectives and fire investigators as well as state fire investigators and agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to assist his department, which has 14 total officers, including three detectives. They had arrived on the scene this morning.

Police said they had not found any witnesses.

"A big problem last night, it was so foggy you couldn't see across the street," Wood said.

Police patrols may be increased in Sedro-Woolley, Wood said. Police encourage members of the public to report suspicious activity.

"Should we need to, we will beef up patrols tonight, especially in the affected area," Wood said. "We are always asking the community to be more aware and watching."

Sedro-Woolley police are asking anyone with information about the fires to call either 911, the police department at 360-855-0111 or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives 24-hour tip line at 1-888-ATF-FIRE.

Marta Murvosh can be reached at 360-416-2149 or by e-mail at mmurvosh@skagitvalleyherald.com.

Last modified on Sep 27, 2005 - 11:30:42 PDT