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Two teens charged in connection to fire at historic Bel Air mansion, state fire marshal office says

Two juveniles were charged with arson Tuesday in connection to a May fire that did significant damage to Fair Meadows, a historic mansion in Bel Air.

The girls, who are not named, are each charged with second-degree arson, first-degree malicious burning and malicious destruction of property, the Office of the State Fire Marshal reported Tuesday night. They are not being charged as adults and have instead been referred to the juvenile justice system in consultation with the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office, according to the news release.

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On May 3, firefighters responded to the report of a structure fire at 2408 Creswell Road at approximately 11:15 a.m. The structure was on the grounds of the Arrow Child and Family Ministry Center, though the company did not occupy or own the historic building. It took 50 firefighters almost 2 hours to control the flames, the release states. The two juveniles charged are residents of the center.

Arrow’s Crossroads center, located at between Bel Air and Aberdeen, is designed to prepare girls for successful independent living after foster care, according to Arrow’s website.

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Nobody was injured in the fire, but the building was heavily damaged and investigators considered it a total loss. Senior deputy fire marshal Oliver Alkire said the office had to use heavy equipment to aid in the investigation. Investigators did not put a dollar-figure to the damage caused, but Alkire said it could be between $500,000 to $1 million.

“During the course of the investigation, the owner advised us it was going to be razed,” Alkire said.

Alkire said the fire occurred inside the building, but could not say where specifically, citing the case’s pending litigation, which also inhibited him from saying whether or not accelerant had been used in the fire. He said he would leave description of the events precipitating and proceeding the fire to adjudication in the juvenile justice system.

“Investigators have not been able to establish a clear motive,” Alkire said. “It is a possibility that it may have been for curiosity.”

Deputy state’s attorney Gavin Patshnick said he was bound against offering details of the alleged arson by law. In Maryland, he explained, juvenile proceedings — from adjudication to the case’s disposition — are hidden from the public. Cases against people under the age of 18 begin in the juvenile justice system unless they involve select types of charges enumerated by statute that can elevate juvenile defendants to being tried as adults. Those crimes include murder, armed robbery, rape and other offenses; arson is not one of them.

Currently, the Department of Juvenile Services is reviewing the case, which it will forward on to the state’s attorney’s office, Patashnick said. The office will decide how to proceed from there. The juvenile justice system is more geared toward rehabilitation than punitive measures, but children and their parents can be jointly liable for up to $10,000 in restitution, Patashnick said.

“In juvenile [cases], the accountability mechanism is one of rehabilitation.” he said.

The mansion was built in 1868 for Clement Dietrich, the last owner of Harford Furnace. The significance of Fair Meadows, according to its page on the Maryland Historic Trust website, is twofold.

“First, as a residence executed in a richly ornamented but conservative interpretation of the Second Empire style, Fair Meadows embodies the distinctive characteristics of a period and type of architecture that, while popular in the U.S. in the 1860s and 1870s, was rarely used in its ‘high style’ form in rural Maryland. Its important features include the exterior stonework, intact interior tile flooring, plaster ornamental work, and marble mantels, and a mansard-roofed carriage house,” according to the site.

“Second, as the house which was the residence of Clement Dietrich, an entrepreneur who substantially expanded the Harford Furnace Iron Works to include flour and saw mills and a large chemical manufacturing plant, Fair Meadows is associated with a person significant in Harford County’s industrial history.”

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