Latest D.C. Area Arson Blaze Is Less Than A Block From Earlier Fatal Arson Blaze

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Arson Task Force was investigating whether the Washington region's serial arsonist struck again Monday. Residents of the city's Brentwood neighborhood expressed concern that this blaze occurred less than one block away from the site of a fatal arson.

``I woke up and saw bright light, and I looked out the window and the house was on fire,'' said James Thomas, 29, a resident of the small wood-framed Northeast Washington home.

Thomas tried unsuccessfully to douse the flames with a garden hose, before returning inside to help his elderly grandmother and an uncle escape. Minnie Mae Hodges, 75, is a stroke victim, and her 47 year-old son is recovering from hip surgery.

``My nephew's the hero, he got my mother and brother out, they would have had a hard time had he not been home,'' said Franklin Hagans, 56, another member of the family.

Hagans arrived at the house as investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives searched the yard of the damaged home for evidence in the case.

``There appears to be similarities to previous fires so as soon as the fire department got the call, they notified the Arson Task Force,'' said Mike Campbell, a special agent with the bureau's Washington Field Division. While the task force is involved, Campbell said this case was not immediately added to the list of 39 fires and one attempted arson in the District of Columbia and its Virginia and Maryland suburbs. Those 40 other incidents have occurred since March 8, 2003.

In many of the cases, an accelerant was spread outside of the home during late night or early morning hours. On Monday, a flammable liquid had been thrown on siding at the rear of the Hodges home around 5 a.m. Family members said they saw a partially melted plastic container on the porch of the house, but it had been removed by investigators.

``My mom would never have left anything like that on the porch, she liked to keep the area clear,'' said Frederick Hodges, 44. Damage was limited to the exterior wall and a small portion of the roof.

Materials collected by the investigators were expected to be tested at the ATF's forensic laboratory in Rockville, Md.

The latest blaze occurred not far from the home where a June 5, 2003, fire killed Lou Edna Jones, 86. Her home remains boarded up, and small keepsakes have been left in the yard in her memory.

``They need to catch this guy, he's dangerous. What kind of person does this to old people?'' Frederick Hodges said.