More than $30,000 is being offered for information leading to arrests in a string of unsolved arsons in four Kentucky counties.
On Thursday, investigators from Fayette, Jessamine, Lincoln and Pulaski counties met at the Lexington Division of Fire's Station 1 on Third Street to discuss the fires — 25 of them, which were set purposely in cars, homes, barns and businesses. The fires have caused millions of dollars in property damage.
It was the first time investigators came together to discuss the scope of the problem and the rewards. The fires in Lincoln and Pulaski counties are thought to be related, but there is no hard evidence linking the fires in Lexington and Nicholasville to any others, investigators said. They said they had interviewed potential suspects, but more witnesses and evidence are needed before charges can be filed.
"We do have a couple possible suspects," Lexington fire Captain Carrie Bowling said. "That's where it's important to get additional witness tips, witness statements. If there's any additional evidence out there, that's helpful in our investigation."
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Six fires occurred in Eubank, beginning in late November just after Thanksgiving, said John Hutchison, a detective from the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office.
The Barron Pallets Mill, which makes wooden pallets, was set on fire, as was a house that was being remodeled. Four separate fires were set in the historical former Eubank High School, which is now privately owned, Hutchison said.
Investigators said they think those fires are related to three in Lincoln County. The first fire was set Dec. 20 at East Anderson Hardwoods, a lumber company, state police arson investigator Pat Alford said. A later fire was set at the same location.
The company that insures East Anderson Hardwood is offering as much as $20,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever set those fires, Alford said.
The most recent fire in Lincoln County was set Jan. 20, at Ruckle's Feed Store in Waynesburg.
"Monetarily, you're looking at somewhere around $4 million in losses" from the three fires, Alford said.
Four arson fires were reported in vehicles and outbuildings in Nicholasville in December, police officer Kevin Grimes said. One of those fires, set in a barn on North Third Street, spread to three houses, destroying one of them and damaging two others.
That fire was most troubling, Grimes said, because of the possibility that a family inside the destroyed home could have been killed had one of the adult members not been outside at the time and seen the fire.
"There were two small children and another adult in the house, which could have resulted in a fatality given the severity of that fire," Grimes said.
Grimes estimated damage at more than $500,000, and said there is a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and indictment of the arsonist in Nicholasville.
The fires that occurred in Lexington, in the Hill Rise Drive area off Versailles Road, have been widely publicized. There were at least 12 fires in December and January. Most were in vehicles and dumpsters, although others occurred in apartment complexes and homes. In one case, a fire from an outbuilding spread to a home on Terrace View Drive, badly damaging it.
No new arson fires have been reported since January in any of the communities, but investigators said they hope that reminding residents of the fires might turn up new information.
"Sometimes, if somebody is involved in a criminal activity, they may tell somebody later when the attention has died down," Bowling said.
The investigators said tips still periodically come in, but nothing has led to a crucial piece of evidence needed to make an arrest.
"It's very frustrating," Hutchison said. "You just have to keep plugging away, hoping that eventually you'll turn that stone over that has that piece of evidence that you need."