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$10,000 reward offered in September fire at former naval base site in Cecil County

A $10,000 reward has been posted in an effort to identify those who started the Sept. 21 fire that gutted Memorial Hall on the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center in Cecil County.
A $10,000 reward has been posted in an effort to identify those who started the Sept. 21 fire that gutted Memorial Hall on the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center in Cecil County. (Photo courtesy of Maryland State / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

A $10,000 reward has been offered for information leading to an arrest and indictment of those who started the Sept. 21 fire that gutted a 102-year-old landmark building in Cecil County.

The reward money was posted effective Saturday by the Bainbridge Development Corporation, a quasi-public organization that owns the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center property in Port Deposit, including the Memorial Hill building where the fire occurred.

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Toni Lozzi, project manager for the corporation, said BDC put up the reward money and is working with the Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The Fire Marshal's Office is leading the investigation into the fire, Lozzi said, but calls are being directed to the ATF's 24-hour tipline, "because no matter what time of day you call, you talk to a real person and then they forward the information to the fire marshal."

The ATF tipline number is 1-888-ATF-FIRE (1-888-283-3473). If valid tips are received from more than one person, the reward will be split, Lozzi said.

The three-story building was extensively damaged during the blaze and continued to burn for a week afterward, which resulted in sections collapsing, according to fire investigators, who later determined the fire was deliberately set, but admitted having no immediate leads on suspects.

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. In addition to burning the roof, the fire destroyed the building's signature clock tower.

Because of the ongoing arson investigation, Lozzi said her organization has not been able to assess the damage to the building to determine if it is salvageable.

"Nothing has been decided," she said about the building's future. "It's still standing, but while the investigation continues, we haven't been in there and are doing everything at the direction of the Fire Marshal's Office."

The former Navy property in Port Deposit served as the private Tome School for Boys 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.

Memorial Hall and other buildings dating from the Tome School era on the 1,200-acre Bainbridge site have been vacant for years. The naval base, established to train sailors during World War II, closed in 1976.

The Bainbridge Development Corporation was established in 1999 to oversee redevelopment of the property. A year ago, the corporation signed a new agreement with an outside development team whose partners include Baltimore Harbor East developer John Paterakis and Richard Alter, president and chief executive officer of Manekin Corporation.

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