Fires believed to have been set just weeks apart in at least 10 vacant homes, garages, or abandoned buildings in Southeastern Massachusetts have raised concerns that an arsonist could be on the loose.
Hours after determining that two fires within 2½ miles of each other in Plympton and Halifax were set early Monday, state Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan’s office said evidence suggests that some of the fires set in the past month are connected, and authorities are investigating whether all of them may be linked.
Since the end of September, at least 10 fires of suspicious origin have burned vacant homes, garages, and abandoned buildings in Plympton, Halifax, Sandwich, Raynham, Easton, and Middleborough. Fire officials have not detailed how the fires were set or what they might have in common, citing ongoing investigations.
“We don’t want this person to change their [method of operation] while we’re just trying to figure out what the patterns are,” said Jennifer Mieth, spokeswoman for Coan’s office.
The area’s fire chiefs have been alerted by Coan’s office that a wide-ranging investigation has begun, Mieth said.
The first Monday fire was reported inside an abandoned, unoccupied house at 266 Monponsett St. in Halifax about 3 a.m. About 5:30 a.m., another fire broke out at a garage at 103 Main St. in Plympton, according to Coan’s office.
Plympton Fire Chief Warren J. Borsari said fires are relatively rare in that town, and it is particularly unusual to see a fire in an unoccupied structure. He estimated damage to the garage at $10,000.
“Certainly, we’re looking to step up police patrols, and we’re going to keep our eyes open, and we’ve asked the public to keep their eyes and ears open,” Borsari said. “We still don’t know what we have going on there.”
In Raynham, where a fire was set Nov. 10 in a vacant condominium building still under construction, Fire Chief James T. Januse said he now finds himself driving around town making note of fire hydrants near unoccupied properties, such as foreclosed homes.
“It registers with you,” Januse said, saying he had never seen this many fires in such a short period of time, “and I’ve been in the Fire Department for 42 years.”
Sandwich Fire Chief George Russell said his department fought two fires of suspicious origin on Tupper Road, one on Sept. 29 in a former antiques shop building, the other Nov. 24 in an abandoned barn.
“It’s a concern,” Russell said, adding he doesn’t believe the blazes in the Cape town are connected. “I think it was kids or someone who’s homeless.”
A two-alarm fire broke out Nov. 13 at the long-shuttered Carriage House restaurant in Easton, and it was later determined to be arson, said Fire Chief Kevin Patridge. He said he doesn’t know whether that fire is linked to the other fires.
“Abandoned buildings do bring a higher level of concern when we’re fighting them, because in a lot of cases they’re not kept up properly,” Patridge said. “We don’t know what started this fire.”
Middleborough Fire Chief Lance Benjamino said his department had responded to four fires of suspicious origin in the past five weeks.
“We are investigating to see where they are linked or not,” Benjamino said. He would not discuss whether an accelerant was used to start the fires, whether someone has claimed responsibility, or what investigators have found in charred buildings that suggests the fires may have a common cause.
He said two of the four fires in Middleborough were in properties that were for sale, the most recent of which took place on Thanksgiving in a home at 105 Thompson St. A fire at 691 Williams St. destroyed a garage, but firefighters were able to save the house.
Even though the fires in his town have involved unoccupied properties, Benjamino said that they still pose a major public safety threat.
“It’s always a threat to lives and also a threat to our guys, to the firefighters who are responding,’’ he said.