By Joseph A. Curtatone
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)
We need your help. Four house fires this summer in Somerville are considered arson and five suspicious fires remain under investigation. Somerville Police and Fire are relentlessly investigating these fires, deploying every resource at our disposal with help from our state and federal partners. We need the public to partner with us, too. Our public safety officials remain vigilant and ask that the public remains vigilant, because one tip could serve as the crucial lead that brings this investigation to a close and keeps our residents safe.
Somerville now has an Arson Hotline dedicated for tips at 617-629-1847 (1TIP). Never assume if you saw someone or something suspicious that someone else has already reported it to the authorities. If you see someone you don’t know in your backyard, call it in. If you see someone suspicious that you believe should not be in your neighbor’s backyard, call it in. Does something or someone in your neighborhood seem out of place? Call it in. If you previously saw something regarding any of the fires and haven’t reported it yet, call and tell us what you saw. Anything suspicious you see could aid in our investigation, so do not hesitate to call our Arson Hotline. If you see something, say something. It’s important to note that the Arson Hotline is only for tips. If you smell or see smoke or fire, immediately call 911.
The City of Somerville has also doubled our reward, from $10,000 to up to $20,000, for any and all information that leads to the arrest and prosecution of any person involved with the intentional setting of these fires. The Arson Watch Reward Program through the State Fire Marshal’s Office is also offering up to a $5,000 reward. That’s a total of an up to $25,000 reward.
Given the nature of these fires, I understand and empathize with the public’s desire to know more details. We can confirm that four house fires are considered arson and that there was one additional case of attempted arson involving a car. We can also confirm that in some cases, the person or persons who set the fire gained access via unlocked basements. In other cases, the fires started on the exterior of the building. Most of these fires have occurred in the early morning. Beyond those facts, we cannot release further details that would jeopardize our investigation and our ability to bring anyone responsible into custody.
Know that no resource has been spared in response to these fires. Every resource at our disposal, from the local level to the federal level, is dedicated to this investigation. The Somerville Police and Fire Departments have been working tirelessly, along with the ATF, the FBI, the State Fire Marshal’s Office, and Cambridge Police and Fire Departments.
As this investigation continues, our public safety officials urge you: Do not be a victim of any fire, whether arson-related or accidental. Follow these arson prevention tips to protect yourself, your family and your home. Remove overstuffed furniture from porches and all highly flammable items from outdoor areas close to your home, including but not limited to piles of leaves or bags of yard waste; stacks of papers or recycling bins with paper/boxes; flammable liquids such as charcoal fluid, gas, paint thinner, and other volatile liquids; candles including mosquito candles; charcoal, or grills with charcoal or gas cans; laundry left hanging out overnight; rags or oily rags; and highly stuffed seat cushions.
Residents should keep their home secure. Lock all doors and windows, including basement doors and windows. Lock your garage door, or remove flammable items from your garage if it can’t be locked. Leave both your front and back porch lights on overnight. Do not store trash or recycling under your porch—keep it farther from the house or inside until your trash day.
These tips coincide with the regular fire safety tips everyone should know and follow. Check batteries in smoke alarms and ensure they are operating. Have an escape plan and discuss it with your family or housemates. Plan two routes of escape from any room and pick a meeting spot safely away from the house. Educate your children, who are likely to hide in a closet or under a bed during a fire if they haven’t been told what to do.
In the event of fire, exit immediately. Do not stop to collect any belongings. Consider putting valuable or irreplaceable items in a fireproof box now so you will not be tempted to look for them when escaping. Before opening doors during a fire, check for smoke seeping in under closed doors and check the door handle. If the handle is hot or if smoke is coming in, don’t open the door. Instead, use your alternate exit if possible. Know how to crawl away from a fire. When exiting, stay low because smoke rises. Smoke can weaken your ability to respond in an emergency or suffocate you. And never reenter a burning building for any reason.
The most important way the public can assist our investigation at this time is to report suspicious activity to the Arson Hotline at 617-629-1847, and to follow these preventative measures and secure their homes. And if you see smoke or fire, call 911 immediately.
We remain vigilant, and I am confident that our public safety officials, along with our state and federal partners, and with help from the public—and we need your help—will see a tireless and thorough investigation through to its conclusion.