Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Accokeek house burned down again

Arson investigation extends to 16 fires

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Robert Ayodeji still wants to build a house that he and his family can call home in Prince George’s County.

But, after his house in Accokeek was burned down for a second time in less than two months, he doesn’t know if it will be possible.

‘‘This is my dream,” said Ayodeji, who is from Nigeria and lives in a townhouse in Greenbelt. ‘‘I don’t want my dream shattered.”

Ayodeji said he wanted the house built so he and his family could leave Greenbelt and start a life in a home of their own.

‘‘When I looked down there I knew nothing about the fires,” he said. ‘‘And now it seems like they are doing nothing about it. They had to know the person would come back.”

Ayodeji plans to rebuild again on the same lot at 16940 Livingston Road as long as his finances will allow it. He said he has insurance, but there will certainly be a loss. He has yet to tally the total monetary damage.

At around 11:40 p.m. Jan. 20, firefighters from Accokeek and Charles County responded to a fire at the house being built for Ayodeji. The structure burned to the foundation and a house next door suffered heat damage, said Mark Brady, a Prince George’s County Fire Department spokesman. Damages totaled $350,000.

The same house had been burned Dec. 4.

At about 12:15 a.m. Dec. 4, firefighters from Accokeek and were alerted to a fire in an unoccupied home being renovated at 16930 Livingston Road. While operating at the scene of this incident, firefighters noticed another fire next door at 16940 Livingston Road.

Investigators determined that fire loss at the 16930 Livingston Road was estimated at $75,000. Fire loss at Ayodeji’s house from the first incident was estimated at $5,000.

Ayodeji said the first fire destroyed much of the inside of the house, but he decided to rebuild before the second fire was set.

According to Brady, the Jan. 20 blaze brings the total to 16 fires in Accokeek since March 2004 and nearly $2.5 million in losses.

The Accokeek Arson Investigation Group is investigating the fires. The group, which is comprised of fire investigators and law enforcement officers from Prince George’s County, State of Maryland Fire Marshals Office and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has determined that the 16 fires are linked and involved structures that were vacant or scheduled for demolition, houses under construction and some construction equipment.

Brady said he could not comment on individual cases because the investigation is ongoing. But he did say investigators took notice when the fires resumed in September. There had been a lull since October 2006.

‘‘I can’t comment on the nuts and bolts of the investigation or on how many investigators are on the case,” Brady said. ‘‘But I can say we are spreading the word. We are receiving a limited number of phone calls, and that is encouraging. We are following up every lead.”

Brady also said investigators are still looking for possible motives.

‘‘It’s hard to determine a motive before you catch the person responsible,” Brady said. ‘‘We are keeping an open mind and not ruling out any motivation.”

Duane Svites, state fire marshal regional commander for southern Maryland, said the investigation is a team effort but would not comment on its specifics.

‘‘We have resources that the local fire department doesn’t have,” Svites said. ‘‘We are there to help.”

Svites also said the investigation would not be increased because of the most recent fires.

‘‘We have been working as a team aggressively from the start,” Svites said. ‘‘Nothing has changed. We have been taking this seriously since the day the investigation started.”

The state fire marshal’s office, based in Pikesville, has 45 investigators on staff throughout Maryland, Svites said.

Fire Investigators are asking that anyone with information related to these crimes to contact the department’s arson hotline at 301-77-ARSON (301-772-7766) or at 77arson@co.pg.md.us.

E-mail Ryan McDermott at rmcdermott@gazette.net.