Condo fire ruled arson

Swampscott firefighter Robert Falkman combats the Nov. 12 fire at Intrepid Circle, a new housing development in Marblehead. The three-alarm blaze has been ruled arson.

(single page view)
(view as multiple pages)By Matthew K. Roy
Staff Writer

MARBLEHEAD A three-alarm fire that destroyed a building in the Marblehead Highlands condominium complex earlier this month was deliberately set, according to state and local authorities.

The state Department of Fire Services issued a statement yesterday confirming that the Nov. 12 blaze was arson but revealing no details about how the fire might have been set. The state agency is offering up to $5,000 for information that could help solve the case.

"Arson is not a victimless crime. It affects the entire community, and I hope the community will fight back and come forward to help investigators," Marblehead Fire Chief Barry Dixey said in the statement.

During a telephone interview yesterday after the statement was issued, Dixey refused to elaborate on the information included in the brief, three-paragraph release.

"It's still an active investigation," he said.

Authorities are reluctant to divulge information about how a fire started in arson cases in part because of the peculiar tendency of people to admit to setting a fire they had nothing to do with, said Jennifer Mieth, spokeswoman for the State Fire Marshal's Office. Such fictitious confessions can sidetrack an investigation.

The Marblehead fire and police departments, the State Fire Marshal's Office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are participating in the investigation.

Yesterday's announcement confirmed the suspicions of many in Marblehead who assumed the fire was intentionally set because of the controversial history of the development. The density of Marblehead Highlands has been unpopular with residents since it was first proposed in 2002.

The fire, which firefighters responded to at 9:45 p.m. on a Saturday, consumed an under-construction, four-story building at 36 Intrepid Circle. The building housed 22 two-bedroom condos and was part of a 10-building, 88-condo complex on 4 acres off Green and Lime streets.

Ted Moore of Glover Property used Chapter 40B, a state law that allows developers to bypass some local zoning by earmarking 20 to 25 percent of a complex for lower-cost homes, to construct Marblehead Highlands. It is the first Chapter 40B project in Marblehead.

Of the 22 condos, seven were considered affordable, according to state guidelines that specify income requirements to determine condo seekers' eligibility. The affordable units cost $173,800 each, while the 15 market-rate condos ranged from $300,000 to more than $400,000.

All 22 homes had been sold and condo owners had expected to move in shortly after construction was completed sometime next month.

Moore did not return a call yesterday. He said in the days after the fire that he planned to rebuild. He estimated the rebuilding costs at between $2.5 million and $3 million, an amount he thought would be covered by insurance.

Mieth urged people to call the state's arson hotline or the Marblehead police and fire departments with any information about the Nov. 12 fire, however insignificant it might seem.

"Tips to the arson hotline have helped in many, many cases," she said. "Don't be afraid to call."

The arson hotline can be reached 24 hours a day by calling (800) 682-9229. All calls are kept confidential.