Three juveniles are charged with starting a fire that caused $250,000 damage to a 127-year-old house in Havre de Grace early Saturday morning.
The three boys were riding their bikes around Havre de Grace early Saturday morning "doing pranks," Deputy State Fire Marshal Oliver Alkire said Tuesday. They were throwing sparklers and snap tops and ringing people's doorbells and running away, he said. One of those sparklers started a fire that caused an estimated $200,000 damage to the house at 123 S. Union Ave. and $50,000 damage to its contents.
"I'm glad we were able to give closure to this family and the community. Everyone was worried there was a serial arsonist running around. We're glad to say there is not, it was just juveniles running around," Alkire said.
Firefighters from companies on both sides of the Susquehanna River were dispatched at 12:41 a.m. Saturday to the house, owned by Scott and Karen Gorsuch, where a passerby reported seeing the fire, Alkire said.
People passing the house saw a small fire on a chair on the front porch, he said.
"That quickly, quickly escalated, within a matter of 1 to 2 minutes it spread to the front of the home," Alkire said.
It took 100 firefighters from the Susquehanna Hose Company, of Havre de Grace; Aberdeen Fire Department; Level Volunteer Fire Company; Darlington Volunteer Fire Company; Community of Perryville; and Water Witch Volunteer Fire Company, of Port Deposit, 45 minutes to control the fire.
Karen Gorsuch was asleep upstairs and Scott Gorsuch was falling asleep in the living room, when he saw the orange glow at the same time the people were passing by out front, Alkire said. The couple escaped out a back door.
Also at the same time, a Havre de Grace Police officer going past saw the fire.
Firefighters from the Susquehanna Hose Company rescued the family dog.
The fire spread quickly up the front exterior of the home, Alkire said, and started into the attic.
"The fire department was able to control it before it got into the attic," he added.
The house was built in 1888, according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation website.
"The wood is original to the structure. There is no doubt in my mind that was a factor in how quickly the fire escalated," Alkire said. "It's so sad because it's such a beautiful, such a gorgeous home."
The homeowners don't smoke and there were no candles or electric on the porch, Alkire said.
An accelerant sniffing dog responded to the home. Alkire said the cause of the fire is under investigation.
Juveniles on bikes were seen in the area just before the fire started, according to Alkire, who later said they were causing mischief and threw sparklers or rang the doorbells at two other homes on Union Avenue the same night.
During the investigation into the fire, Alkire said, fire officials identified a 15-year-old boy from Havre de Grace as the "main culprit." Two others – a 15-year-old boy from Conowingo and a 14-year-old from Havre de Grace – were also involved.
When they got to the house at 123 S. Union, the boy allegedly ran up to the home, lit a sparkler and threw it on a seat cushion, then rang the doorbell and the three got on their bikes and took off around the corner, he said.
A Havre de Grace Police officer in the area saw the boys' bikes that had been dumped in the middle of the street and told them to pick them up and go home, Alkire said.
"He didn't think anything of it," Alkire said.
Then the officer drove up Union Avenue and saw the fire.
Other witnesses reported seeing the boys, which helped fire investigators identify them.
The 15-year-old from Havre de Grace is charged with first- and second-degree arson, first- and second-degree malicious burning and two counts of reckless endangerment. The other two are charges as accessories to those crimes, Alkire said, since they didn't commit the crimes, but "they were there, they should have notified someone."
All three were released to the custody of their parents.
During its Monday night meeting, the Havre de Grace City Council praised the quick response by firefighters.
"Fires do happen in the 21st century and seconds matter," Mayor Bill Martin said, calling it "amazing" that they were able to control a fire in a house more than 100 years old.
He said he was very thankful to have "great volunteers" in the city who are so concerned about residents' lives and property.