WOONSOCKET â€” The state fire marshal has concluded that arson was the cause of a three-alarm fire that heavily damaged a vacant six-family house at 368 East School St. Monday night.
Deputy State Fire Marshal Lt. Michael Morin of the Woonsocket Fire Department said a $5,000 reward is now offered for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator.
The arson conclusion was based, in part, on where the fire started, evidence of prior illegal entry, and the fact that all utilities had been cut off, said Morin.
â€śWe canâ€™t go into details right now, but weâ€™re going with the state fire marshal on this one,â€ť said Morin. â€śThe cause was arson and the house is now posted for a reward.â€ť
A Woonsocket police officer spotted smoke coming from the basement about 10 p.m., said Morin.
The house is owned by Jennifer Carter of Massachusetts, according to Morin.
He said there are active fire code violations against the property, including citations for failure to have an alarm system or fire-rated doors.
He said the fire department was unable to locate Carter after the fire. The house has been vacant for some time and may be for sale or in foreclosure, he said.
There is evidence that thieves were in the process of stripping the plumbing and other metal fixtures from the residence for their value as scrap, he said.
â€śSomeoneâ€™s been in there because the copper pipes have been stripped out and it looks like they were getting ready to strip the wire,â€ť said Morin.
When firefighters arrived, they found that a bulkhead leading to the basement, where the fire began, had been forced open.
Partly because one of the cityâ€™s ladder trucks is sidelined for repairs, the department pulled three alarms for the fire, calling in backup from Blackstone and Cumberland. He said the fire, largely confined to the basement, was extinguished in about an hour.
The fire probably burned vigorously for at least a half-hour before it was discovered, using mattresses, old clothes and other combustibles stored in the basement for fuel, the deputy fire marshal said.
Despite the intensity of the fire, Morin said there was little visible damage from the exterior of the house.
â€śYou might see some smokestained windows from the side,â€ť Morin said, â€śbut thatâ€™s about it. It was a pretty quick knockdown.â€ť
Anyone with information about who may have set the fire is urged to call the state fire marshal at 462-4200.