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Bainbridge building fire ruled arson; probe continues

Investigators have determined last month's fire that gutted the vacant Memorial Hall building on the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center property in Cecil County was deliberately set.

"Investigators determined a person or persons gained entry and intentionally ignited the interior of the school," the Office of the State Fire Marshal said in a statement Wednesday. "An estimated damage in loss could not be determined due to the structure being a historic landmark."

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The fire was reported early Sept. 21 on the former Navy property in Port Deposit, which had served as a private school from 1901 until the Navy came in 1942. Memorial Hall was constructed for the Tome School for Boys in 1901-02 and was the centerpiece of the school campus and later the Navy base. The building and property are owned by the quasi-public Bainbridge Development Corporation, which is overseeing redevelopment of the 1,200-acre site.

No one was injured in the fire, which took about 35 firefighters three hours to contain. Fire companies responded from Cecil and Harford counties and southern Pennsylvania.

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The three-story building was extensively damaged during the blaze and continued to burn for a week afterward, which resulted in sections of the building collapsing, the Fire Marshal's Office said.

Senior Deputy State Fire Marshal Oliver Alkire said investigators from his office have been working with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"At this point we don't have an accelerant or tangible evidence of one, but we do have other evidence that the fire was arson," Alkire said.

What they are short on at this point is leads, he added.

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"We've received very little in the way of phone calls. We've interviewed several people from town, but nobody saw anything out of the ordinary," Alkire said. "We really could use the public's help on this, particularly photographs of the building before or after, even during the fire."

Alkire said there is no connection to the Memorial Hall fire and other suspected incendiary fires in the area, including one that occurred at a house on Horseshoe Drive near Rising Sun the day before.

"Any of these fires was absolutely independent of the others, and we have established there are no connections," he said. "We want people to know there isn't an arsonist running around out there."

Photographs may be emailed to msp.osfmnero@maryland.gov. Anyone having information may contact the Fire Marshal's Northeast Regional Office in Bel Air at 410-836-4844 or the Arson Hotline at 1-800-492-7529.

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