Feds Suspect Arson in Pennsylvania Firehouse Fires

ISABELLA, Pa. (AP) -- The volunteer fire company's century-old social hall in this former coal mining town was itself destroyed in a fire over the summer. Federal investigators say it was no coincidence.

They say some of the fire company's 30 members may have set the blaze in hopes of collecting insurance money to build a new social hall.

The social hall - which has been the scene for weddings, banquets and church services, as well as a polling place in the western Pennsylvania town of 250 - was hit by two arson blazes on June 26 and 30.

The first caused only smoke and heat damage; the second destroyed the social hall along with two of the department's four trucks.

While no one has been charged, court papers allege the fire company's vice president Jerry Booker set the first fire and firefighters Dan Smith and Willy Robison started the second.

An affidavit unsealed Monday says some firefighters openly talked about how a fire at the social hall would be beneficial.

It also details a conversation between Eric Smith, who agreed after the two fires to wear a wire, and Booker. Booker is heard saying of investigators, ``They don't have anything. They need a picture of me.''

Bernadette Tummons, an attorney for the firefighters, dismissed the allegations. ``All that is an affidavit for a search warrant. There are no arrests,'' she said.

Tummons said the claims are largely based on the word of one firefighter, Eric Smith, who she said was a newcomer to Isabella who admitted setting fires in order to put them out.

About two months before the blazes, the fire company was told the social hall building needed $6,000 to $8,000 in repairs, according to the affidavit.

Federal prosecutor Shaun Sweeney declined to comment on the case.

Booker was charged with possession of child pornography Dec. 3 after investigators uncovered pictures on his home computer while searching for information related to the fires.

A call to the attorney representing him in that case was not immediately returned.

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