WOONSOCKET — City fire investigators and Police Department detectives are seeking the public’s help in solving a suspected arson at the Seville Dye mill complex at First Avenue and River Street on Sunday.
An investigation by state and local fire marshals at the damaged mill on Monday and Tuesday determined the fire to have been set, fire officials said Wednesday.
A $5,000 reward has been posted by the State Fire Marshal’s office for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a suspect in the case.
“We have Detective Alan Leclaire working with the Fire Department and State fire investigators to solve this case,” Police Lt. Eugene Jalette, the department’s spokesman said Wednesday. Woonsocket Fire Department Lt. Francis Dunton, an assistant state Fire Marshal, is heading the local department’s investigation of the fire.
“There was no electricity to the building or heating so it was suspicious from the get go,” Jalette said.
Mayor Leo T. Fontaine said investigators found graffiti in the office section of the mill where the fire is believed to have started as well as evidence that juveniles may have started the blaze in paper and other debris in that area.
“It does appear that in all likelihood it was started by juveniles,” Fontaine said.
The fire breaking out at about 12:45 p.m. Sunday caused heavy damage to the two-level office area of the former dye operation at First Avenue and Fairmount. Fire also burned through sections of the industrial roof causing officials to evacuate the immediate neighborhood out of concern hazardous materials were being released into the air, according to Deputy Fire Chief John Danis, incident commander. Several families were sheltered at the Fairmont Heights apartment complex community room and also nearby Sacred Heart Church while the fire was fought by local fire units and mutual aid companies sent from surrounding communities. The residents were allowed to return to their homes in the early evening after air quality checks showed no hazardous materials to be in the area.
The city is working with Robert Picciotti, brother of the late Nicholas Picciotti, the longtime operator of Seville Dye, on a plan to raze the remains of the complex, Fontaine said Wednesday. Seville Dye also has properties on River Street that were not affected by the fire but the company’s longstanding receivership has complicated options for reusing the city industrial site.
“Between back taxes, water and sewer fees, they owe the city about $1.6 million,” Fontaine said. “We are going to be taking a very active look at everything that goes on there,” he added. “We have to protect the city’s interests in whatever happens with the property.”
Anyone with information on the cause of the fire can contact local fire investigators at 401-765-2500 or the police department’s anonymous tip line at 401-769-4444.