Investigators probe six suspicious fires

By Andrew Hickey

Staff writer

MARBLEHEAD -- Investigators are on the hunt for an arsonist with a penchant for igniting trash, who they believe lit six suspicious fires in three days.

Fire Chief Barry Dixey said the most recent fires started around 1 a.m. yesterday. Crews responded to a fire behind a row of shops in the 200 block of Humphrey Street and, while en route, encountered a strikingly similar fire behind the Spirit of '76 Bookstore at 107 Pleasant St.

Dixey said both fires were caused by someone setting trash and cardboard ablaze.

On Humphrey Street, flames crawled up the rear wall and into the roof of the block of stores, which includes Beach Bluff Liquors, Grossman's Delicatessen, North Shore Bank and Beach Bluff Cleaners, Dixey said.

Firefighters quickly knocked down the blaze, which caused some damage to the vinyl siding and the roof of the building. Though the bank and cleaners suffered minor damage, the liquor store and deli had extensive smoke damage.

The bookstore also suffered heavy smoke damage to its inventory and limited structure damage, Dixey said. A sprinkler in the basement stopped the fire from spreading there.

Investigators believe those fires are linked to a rash of recent trash fires throughout town.

In less than 30 minutes Wednesday night, the Fire Department responded to three fires in recycling bins and trash cans. Fires were found on Mugford Street at 11:22 p.m., Jersey Street at 11:31 p.m. and on the grounds of the Evelyth School on Brook Road at 11:48 p.m., Dixey said.

Just before the business fires yesterday, another recycling bin, this one full of newspapers, was found flaming at the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Smith Street at 12:36 a.m., Dixey said.

Those fires were all contained to the bins and barrels, the chief said.

"Obviously, these fires are all suspicious," he said, adding that police and fire investigators are seeking the public's help in tracking down the arsonist.

Anyone with information should call Marblehead police at (781) 631-1212, Ext. 0, or the Fire Department at (781) 631-0142. Police Detective Sgt. Marion Keating and Fire Lt. Jason Gilliland are heading the investigation.