Friday, May 4, 2007

Fire set at day-laborer center near Shady Grove

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An early-morning fire was set at the county’s new day-laborer center near Shady Grove on Friday, fire officials said.

County officials have not ruled out investigating the incident as a hate crime.

‘‘It’s clear that it was an attempt to burn down the entire center,” said Casa of Maryland spokeswoman Kim Propeack. Casa, an immigrant advocacy group, manages the Crabbs Branch Way center and two others.

A manager discovered the fire when he arrived to open the employment center at 6 a.m.

The fire was extinguished by the time Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services arrived to the double-wide trailers in a county industrial park in Derwood 15 minutes later, according to fire and rescue services spokesman Pete Piringer.

The fire is being investigated as second-degree arson, Piringer said.

The fire, which caused at least $2,000 in damage, was fueled by an unknown flammable liquid, and charred an attached wooden deck and ramp, he said. The center was closed during the investigation and repairs began immediately, officials said.

Anyone with information should call 240-777-2263.

There have been no protests at the center — which has drawn heavy criticism for catering to illegal immigrants — since it opened April 16. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) endorsed the center in January after Gaithersburg leaders ended their two-year effort to find a site within city limits.

When told about the fire, Leggett called it a ‘‘shameful” and ‘‘despicable” act, county executive spokesman Patrick K. Lacefield said.

County police have monitored the center in its opening weeks, and Lacefield said the county will ‘‘consider some other options” to improve security.

‘‘They just moved everything in the parking lot,” Lacefield said, adding that the trailers would be reopened before the end of the day.