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Posted January 3, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

House fire ruled an arson, may be linked to burglary

Authorities issue release offering award of up to $5,000 for information leading to an arrest for the crime

By Joe Beck

Authorities have determined that a house fire on Manassas Avenue in Front Royal on Sept. 13 was caused by arson, possibly linked to a burglary several days earlier.

Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico and police Sgt. Jason Ryman issued a news release Wednesday offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to an arrest for the crime.

Maiatico said in an interview that authorities suspected almost immediately that someone set the fire reported around 4:45 a.m. at 416 Manassas Ave. The state crime lab recently returned results of some evidence submitted from the scene of the fire that confirmed the fire was set, Maiatico said.

The fire caused an estimated $90,000 damage, much of it concentrated in the basement where one occupant was forced to flee, according to authorities. The remainder of the home was occupied by Wally Manuel, his wife and three children, Maiatico said. Authorities said at the time they were on vacation.

The fire sent heavy smoke through basement windows as firefighters arrived at the scene. The fire was brought under control in about 30 minutes.

"We found the presence of an accelerant used in the fire," Maiatico said, adding, "some other investigative techniques proved this was an act of arson."

The Front Royal Police Department has joined the Fire and Rescue Services in the investigation. The police became involved through their investigation of a burglary at the home a few days before the fire was set.

Authorities said several pieces of electronic equipment were stolen during the burglary, which occurred during the Manuel family's vacation.

I don't have any direct evidence they're related but given the time frame, we can't help but feel they are related," said Front Royal police Sgt. Jason Ryman.

Maiatico said attempting to cover up evidence of an earlier crime is a common motive for arson.

"A lot of people are under the impression that fire will get rid of evidence, and it could have been used to cover up that crime," he said, referring to the burglary.

Anyone with information to report on the crime can contact Maiatico at 636-3830 or Ryman at 636-2208.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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