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Official does not suspect arson in recent fires

Shenandoah County Fire Marshal David Ferguson, left, and Lt. Nathan Helsley, right, sift through debris from a Maurertown fire on April 27. Shenandoah County has had a rash of fires over the last several weeks. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Katie Demeria

WOODSTOCK -- In the span of less than one month, four devastating fires have struck Maurertown and Toms Brook.

Shenandoah County Fire Marshal David Ferguson has clarified, though, that he does not believe a serial arsonist is responsible. But he encourages residents to reach out to him if they know anything about the incidents, and to take precautions against future fires.

The four significant incidents began on March 20, at 55 Jessica Place in Toms Brook. It resulted in two fatalities. The preliminary findings suggest the fire was accidental.

On April 13, the Alms House in Maurertown was destroyed in flames. Ferguson said no information can yet be released because the investigation is still in its early stages.

Fire also destroyed a residence at 36 Roberts Road in Toms Brook on April 23. So far, the investigation points to an accidental cause.

The most recent significant fire, at 24771 Old Valley Pike in Maurertown, took place on April 27. The investigation is in its very early stages, Ferguson said, and he is not ruling out it being either an accidental or a set fire.

From his findings, Ferguson said none of the fires have any connections that would suggest an arsonist at work.

"Any time you have numerous fires in one area, as a criminal investigator it's important that you look at that, include that in your investigation, and rule out those potential causes," Ferguson said. "No, we're not seeing a connection."

One recent fire, though, that took place on March 31 at Strasburg Self Storage, was likely arson, Ferguson said. That incident has no connection to any other, he added.

"That was a set fire," he said. "If anybody has any information on that one, please give me a call."

Ferguson said calls from eyewitnesses are always useful. He encourages anyone who thinks they know something to contact him.

"It doesn't matter if the investigation leads to an accident or a set fire, any information to put the pieces together is very beneficial," he said.

A fire that took place on July 11, 2013 at 143 Montvue Ave. in Mount Jackson was a good example of a passersby helping Ferguson understand what caused the fire.

The eyewitnesses were able to pinpoint the exact location of the fire, and in that location the occupant advised that he had a candle lit.

"We as a nation are reactive instead of proactive," he said. "So the more times that we can get the information out after an incident, the more likely it is that somebody is going to step up and actually test their smoke detectors, or be careful about how they use candles, or call an electrician if their breaker keeps tripping."

He encouraged Shenandoah County residents to learn from the recent tragedies and take every step to ensure they do not happen again.

Two minutes can make all the difference in a fire, he pointed out. Within just two minutes, a bedroom can be destroyed, and if a person sleeping does not react to smoke detectors, or does not have a working smoke detector, he or she may not be able to get out in time.

"People always think, this will never happen to me," Ferguson said. "And I feel so bad when I have to go to a fire because then the resident will usually say, 'I never thought this would happen to me.'"

Anyone with information on the fires can call Ferguson at (540) 459-6177.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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