Motive sought in Charles County fires


INDIAN HEAD - Crime scene analysts have finished combing through much of the 10-acre site where devastating arson fires burned 26 high-priced homes this week, but lead investigators said yesterday that they have not determined a motive and have no suspects.

"The investigation is only 72 hours old. There's a lot of people to talk to, a lot of avenues to go down," said FBI Special Agent Kevin Perkins during an afternoon briefing.

Deputy State Fire Marshal W. Faron Taylor said "any potential source of evidence is being thoroughly analyzed."

He would not confirm reports that buckets containing a liquid accelerant were found in many of the burned homes in Charles County's Hunters Brooke development, and that investigators had pulled surveillance tapes from several service stations near the crime scene.

However, clerks at several nearby service stations on Indian Head Highway said yesterday that the locations have been visited by FBI agents searching for security tapes.

Fire officials have said they think more than one person was responsible for setting the pre-dawn blazes in Hunters Brooke, a new development of luxury homes that has been the focus of an environmental dispute.

Many of the homes were reduced to piles of rubble; damage is estimated at $10 million. State officials have called the fires the worst residential arson in Maryland history.

As heavy rain fell, investigators continued working at the site yesterday as many members of the team - which includes dozens of local, state and federal detectives, analysts and arson specialists from agencies including the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - left the scene to conduct interviews in and around the small town of Indian Head.

"We have shifted from the on-scene examination phase to a broader based investigative phase," said Deputy State Fire Marshal W. Faron Taylor.

Taylor and others at yesterday's briefing said that while ecoterrorism has not been ruled out, it is not the central focus of the team's work.

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