Historic District fires: Reward offered, mayor meets with about 100 residents

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comMay 23, 2013 

With up to a $10,000 reward on the table, about 100 Historic District residents turned out Thursday night to hear what Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and local law enforcement officials had to say about an outbreak of car fires last weekend.

Tomlinson assured those gathered the ongoing four-agency investigation was turning up leads.

“There are things we know that you would be fascinated by, but we are not going to tell you,” the mayor said.

Officials are offering the reward from Georgia Arson Control Inc., for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the Historic District vehicle fires. Those with information are urged to call the state arson control hotline at 1-800-282-5804. You can also call 706 653-3500 and ask for fire prevention.

Around 3:20 a.m. Saturday, five cars and a grill cover on a Front Avenue porch were set ablaze.

John Van Doorn, one of the victims, addressed the mayor, saying his concern is those committing these crimes appear to be targeting houses and structures.

“I don’t think this is a Historic District problem,” Van Doorn said. “I think it is a Columbus problem. My plea is for the city to take this as a citywide problem.”

Tomlinson assured him that was happening. The task force investigating the fires is being led by arson investigators from the Columbus Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. Columbus police, Muscogee County Sheriff’s officers and local agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also are working the case, Fire Marshal Ricky Shores said.

There is a history of car fires in the area dating back to 2006. Most recently, at least two cars were torched about a year ago.

Those who live in the area were urged to call 911 if they see anything out of the ordinary. Tomlinson asked those who have home security systems to check any video tape for possible evidence.

Patrols also have been increased in the neighborhood just south of downtown.

The early morning fires were in a one block area of Front Avenue and Broadway. Shores outlined what happened. At 3:22 a.m., the first call of a car fire in the 500 block of Front Avenue came in. A fire truck responded. When they got there, they found two cars on fire. There was a call about the same time about a fire on Broadway, directly behind the fires the department was working. Fire fighters responded to that on foot and determined it was a different fire.

They also found a car fire at the corner of the 600 block of Front Avenue. At that home a gas grill cover on a wooden deck was on fire. Another engine was called in, Shores said.

“It was a lot of chaos,” Shores said. “Everything came in within 15 minutes of each other.”

He said finding those responsible was a priority for the department.

“These people have to be caught because they have no reason to stop,” Shores said.

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