Another suspicious fire in the historic section of Ellicott City -- the fourth since Feb. 19 -- was being studied today by county, state and federal investigators.
Meanwhile, a special community meeting will be held tonight in the Ellicott City fire station, 8390 Main St., to help answer questions from concerned merchants and residents about fire safety and the recent rash of arson-related fires.
Robert Thomas, deputy state fire marshal, said today that agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have joined the investigation of the Ellicott City fires for additional manpower and because of the federal agency's technical sophistication.
"We have no suspects or motive except we can safely say now that these fires are not being set for insurance purposes," Mr. Thomas said.
He said the county fire and police departments, his agency and ATF are working "nearly around the clock to arrest the person or persons responsible."
Mr. Thomas described the area hit by the fires as a "tinderbox" because of the ages of some of the buildings in the city's historic district, some of which date back to the Civil War.
"We have made some informal recommendations to the owners of those buildings that they install sprinkler systems to avoid potentially greater losses," Mr. Thomas said.
Battalion Chief Donald Howell of the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services said that yesterday someone ignited an overstuffed chair on the second floor of the Antique Depot, 3720 Maryland Ave., just off Main Street near the Baltimore County line.
Reported at 3:48 p.m., the fire was extinguished before firefighters arrived, Chief Howell said.
The fire occurred in spite of additional police patrols ordered in the Main Street area after the third fire Sunday at a vacant, two-story frame building.
That blaze caused an estimated $5,000 damage to the building at 8468 Main St., Chief Howell said.
On March 5, a fire destroyed a 120-year-old furniture warehouse on Church Road off Main Street. The loss was estimated at $500,000.
On Feb. 19, an arson fire caused damage estimated at $250,000 to Ellicott's Country Store and the Heirlooms Too antique shop in the 8100 block of Main St.
No injuries were reported in any of the fires.