By Patrick Ronan
The Patriot Ledger
HANSON, Mass. — When he got home from work Monday night, Michael Robinson, 31, read an article online about a recent rash of local fires that were likely set intentionally. He was troubled by the news but managed to get to sleep.
Robinson was awakened abruptly Tuesday morning by a knock on his door and news that a fire had devoured yet another local building, but this one was a lot closer to home. The early-morning blaze in Hanson had destroyed a vacant building at 999 Main St. near Robinson's house.
It was the seventh suspicious fire this month, and the fourth in a two-day span, that started inside a vacant or unfinished building between Quincy and Middleboro. The Hanson blaze, along with a three-alarm fire at an empty building in Quincy on Tuesday, has exacerbated worries among local residents that a serial arsonist or arsonists may be at large.
"That's a little scary," Robinson said. Later he added: "It's only a matter of time before there's some casualty."
Investigators suspect that three of the four fires in the region this week were started intentionally, with the cause of the Hanson blaze still under investigation. An abandoned farm in Halifax and a garage in Plympton went up in flames within a two-hour span Monday morning. State fire officials said the fires may have been set by the same person or persons.
Early Tuesday morning, a three-alarm blaze, which was later determined to have been deliberately set, ravaged an empty commercial building in Quincy. The Hanson fire started several hours later, although officials had not released the cause as of Tuesday night.
State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said there is "great concern" that the Quincy and Hanson fires may be connected to other arson cases in the area. Officials suspect that fires were purposely started earlier this month at an abandoned farmhouse in Middleboro, at a building under construction in Kingston, at a closed restaurant in Easton and at an unfinished condominium complex in Raynham.
Middleboro has had four suspicious fires in the past two months. On Sept. 26, officials said a trespasser started a fire at the closed Alpine Motel. A month later, another fire gutted the same building.
Ken Marston, a local real estate developer and entrepreneur who owned the Hanson building that burned down
Tuesday, said he had planned to turn the empty structure into a small apartment complex. Marston suspected the fire was intentional.
"It sure fits the M.O.," he said. "I wouldn't be a bit surprised."
Hanson Fire Chief Jerome Thompson Jr. said the neighboring businesses on Main Street were lucky they didn't catch fire early Tuesday morning. The flames were so intense they melted some of the external panels lining the commercial property at 1000 Main St. — across the street from where the fire took place.
Several shoppers who were interviewed outside the Wal-Mart store in Halifax on Tuesday morning said they hadn't heard about the string of local fires. Sue Cram of Kingston said she'll now be on the lookout for suspicious activity in her neighborhood.
"There's a lot of empty houses in Kingston, an awful lot," Cram said.
Jennifer Mieth, spokeswoman for the state Department of Fire Services, is urging the public to share any information related to the fires by calling the state's arson hotline at 800-682-9229. People who help police make an arrest are eligible to receive up to $5,000 as a reward.
Copyright 2012 The Patriot Ledger