Arson suspected in 2 fires

By Dave Rogers | Published Thursday, August 11, 2011

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Finishing Flurry

FINISHING FLURRY - Firefighters Andy Torres and Dustin Hood of East Wise Fire Rescue attack "hot spots" from Sunday night's fire at 176 Prairie Trail in New Fairview. It was one of two mobile home fires on the street Sunday night. Messenger photo by Dave Rogers

Wise County Fire Marshal Marc Dodd said that while firefighters were putting out one suspicious mobile home fire Sunday night in New Fairview “it would appear” someone torched a second mobile home down the street.

Both fires to unoccupied, double-wide manufactured houses on Prairie Trail, south of County Road 4421 near New Fairview, were cases of arson, he said.

They were not the first suspicious fires in the area recently, Dodd said, but he said neighborhood homeowners shouldn’t panic.

“We’ve had a couple of fires in that area at unoccupied houses,” he said. “I think that’s (unoccupied homes) the target. I don’t think people who are living in occupied houses have to worry.”

The investigator declined to say how Sunday night’s fires were started or where in the houses the fires originated.

Members of the North Central Texas Arson Task Force were called to assist Dodd, because “I had two scenes to process in the middle of the night by myself,” he said.

The second blaze, at 227 Prairie Trail, was primarily confined to the attic because of the quick response of firefighters who were already on the first scene, up a hill 200 yards away.

Regardless, it made for a long night for neighbor Jamie Copen and her husband, Robert, who live next door to the second fire scene.

At around 11 p.m. Sunday, neighbors knocked on their door to tell them there was a fire up the street.

“We got woke up and told that the house is on fire over there,” Copen said. “We came out and checked it out, then went back to bed.

“Thirty minutes later, somebody’s banging on the door again to tell us the house next door is on fire now. Thankfully, somebody was here to put that one (next door) out.”

There was no meandering grass fire to link these two house fires. Further, there appeared little chance that a burning ember sparked the blaze at the house next to Copen’s, because Copen’s end of the street was upwind from the scene of the first fire.

A cool southern breeze blew across the 176 Prairie Trail lot as firemen pulled down what was left of the walls at around 1 a.m. and checked for hot spots. That fire was called in at 10:41 p.m. by a neighbor. The structure was fully involved when firefighters arrived, said Chief David Plankey of East Wise Fire Rescue.

“It was lit from one end to the other,” Plankey said. “We had to worry about fire extension (spreading to other lots), so we staged a couple of brush trucks downwind. But that’s not unusual.”

The second fire, about four lots down and across the street at 227 Prairie Trail, was called in by firefighters battling the first blaze at about 11:40 p.m.

“We were up there fighting that one and looked down here and saw a glow,” Rhome Fire Chief Robert Pratt said at the scene of the second blaze.

“We thought it was a grass fire, but it turned out to be a structure fire. We got here and there was heavy fire through the roof on the back and all in the attic. We did a good stop on it.”

Two dozen firefighters responded to the two fires from six departments – Boyd, Decatur, East Wise, Justin, Newark, Rhome – along with Wise County Emergency Services.

Still, there were almost more law enforcement vehicles than fire trucks on the scene, with state troopers and Wise County Sheriff deputies assisting the fire marshal and arson task force members.

Reports of a suspicious man around the site of the second fire had something to do with the heavy law-enforcement presence. However, that man was later determined not to be a suspect, Dodd said.

Both fires were extinguished by about 1 a.m., as the arson investigators were just getting started with their work.

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