Arson investigators from Baltimore and Carroll counties met with about 65 residents of the Upperco area to talk about a mysterious barn-burner who apparently has set fire to four barns and a vacant house in the last year.
There have been four fires in Baltimore County and one in Carroll since Feb. 2, 1993, with the most recent striking Jan. 30th in the 5600 block of Emory Road in Baltimore County, near the Carroll line.
A fire at a farm in the Gamber area of Carroll County Monday morning is not thought to be related to the other blazes, the state fire marshall's office said.
Detective Douglas Rill, an arson investigator, said authorities believe the other five fires are linked because each barn was burned in the early morning hours and all the burned barns were in the Emory Road, or Route 91 area, between Route 140 and Route 30.
The culprit has caused about $335,000 in property damage, but no person or animal has been injured.
If the fires continue, Detective Rill said, he fears that could change.
"The possibility exists that someone could be injured," he said. "That's an absolute possibility."
Meeting last night at the Arcadia Volunteer Fire Company hall, just of Md. 30 in northwest Baltimore County, the arson investigators declined to say much about the actual fires, but urged citizens to protect themselves against being victimized, and asked for help.
Lt. Cameron M. Ailiff, of the Baltimore County fire department, urged those attending the meeting to report to police any suspicious person or vehicle they see in their area.
"When you see individuals you don't know, or suspicious vehicles, you might start thinking about writing down tag numbers," he said. "That one piece of information might be what we need to solve this case."
Arson investigators would not say if they suspect the arsonist is using gasoline or some other accelerant to start the blazes, but they did urge residents to lock up flammable liquids and take other safety measures, such as adding lights and to perhaps allow dogs to stay outside to scare off intruders.
Officials also released a composite sketch of a "witness" to the most recent fire, a white man between 25 and 35 years old, 5 feet, 10 inches tall, about 175 pounds, with brown hair and fair complexion. Police said the man may have seen something important and they want to talk to him.
Tips on preventing a fire came too late for Tom Patterson, 60, of the 5700 block of Emory Road. His barn was destroyed in a fire last June. He woke early in the morning to see the sky orange with flames, he said.
He was able to save a race horse from his barn, but the structure, worth $175,000 to $200,000, was destroyed, he said.
Mr. Patterson, who has worked his farm for 20 years, said he wasn't sure if last night's meeting would help catch the arsonist, but he did say he's ready now. He bought himself a guard dog.
"It's a good one," he said. "A Rottweiler."