Laurel city officials have doubled their reward to $10,000 for information about recent fires in Laurel, and county fire investigators have expanded their investigations from two playground fires to five more they say were either set intentionally or appear suspicious.
In addition to the fires at Discovery Community Park (March 3) and Emancipation Community Park (March 11), which are both being investigated as set by arsonists, Laurel Police and Prince George's County fire investigators are also looking for information related to five other fires: a fire at the Bottom Dollar Store in South Laurel on Route 197 on Jan. 10; a March 6 fire at Laurel Fuel Oil Heating and Cooling; an outdoor fire behind an office building in the 14300 block of Laurel Bowie Road on March 20; a small fire in a mulch pile near the outdoor stage at Granville Gude Park on March 22; and a fire at Empire Buffet on Laurel Place on March 23.
Together, the seven fires have caused more than $600,000 in damages, according to Prince George's County fire investigators.
Announcement of the increased reward and expanded investigation was made today in a joint news conference at the Laurel Police Department that included Prince George's County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor, Deputy Fire Chief Scott Hoglander, Laurel Police Chief Richard McLaughlin, Laurel Deputy Police Chief Jimmy Brooks and Mayor Craig Moe.
Bashoor spoke of the "needless" risk of injury these suspicious fires place not only on occupants of buildings but on fire fighters.
"Crimes of arson in occupied buildings are our worst nightmare," Bashoor said.
Using the fire at Laurel Fuel Oil's facility as an example, Bashoor said "every time firefighters venture into a burning building, they risk their lives and are subject to injury, and worse, possibly death, by the collapse of buildings while they search for victims in an attempt to extinguish the fires."
Laurel Fuel Oil's building was "seconds away from collapse," Bashoor said. With fire fighters inside at the time, if the building had collapsed "we would be attending funerals right now," he said.
Moe said city officials "are greatly concerned by the fires," and that the two parks that lost playground equipment are popular and "heavily used."
Investigators repeated their call for community members to step forward with any information, including photos or videos, related to the fires in Laurel. The reward is for any information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the fires.
To anonymously leave a tip about the incidents, contact the Laurel Police Department's tip line at 301-498-7645 or the Prince George's County fire tip line at 301-77-ARSON.
"The playgrounds and other structures can be, and will be rebuilt," Moe said in a released statement. "But the emotional and psychological damages can be longer-lasting."