Prince George’s fire investigators are asking for the public's help in finding who is responsible for intentionally setting a Friday house fire that critically injured two firefighters, and officials say there is evidence people were staying in the vacant home where the fire occurred.
The fire, which officials say started about 9 p.m. in the basement of a home at 6404 57th Ave., resulted in a fireball that engulfed Bladensburg firefighters Ethan Sorrell and Kevin O’Toole, said Prince George's County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor at a news conference Wednesday in Landover Hills.
A second fire about two to three weeks prior at a vacant home next door, at 6402 57th Ave., previously went unreported and is also being investigated as arson, fire officials said.
That fire also started in the basement, said Scott Hoglander, the Prince George's County Fire Department deputy chief and county fire marshal. The fire may have gone unreported because it either burned out on its own or someone attempted to put it out, Hoglander said.
It is possible people were squatting inside both homes, said Mark Brady, a county fire/EMS spokesman. It is unknown whether authorities are targeting one person or multiple suspects.
Resident information is important to closing the investigation, Hoglander said.
"Somebody out there saw something, and their information is vital to our investigation," he said.
Fire officials could not comment on what evidence led them to link the two fires, and said there are similarities between the two but they cannot definitively say they were set by the same person, Brady said. Hoglander could not confirm if there was any DNA evidence at the scene.
David Cheplak, a special agent and public information officer for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said he could not say these fires are linked to a serial arsonist, but that on a national level it's typical that when someone does it once he or she will do it again.
Although the house at 6404 57th Ave. was vacant, firefighters assumed residents were inside during the fire after noticing a vehicle parked in the driveway, according to Bladensburg Volunteer Lt. Adam Cole at a news conference Sunday.
Bashoor confirmed Wednesday that vehicle did not have any tags but that personally would not have deterred him from going inside if he were fighting the fire that Friday night. Bashoor had no additional information on who owned that vehicle.
The county's fire department is using a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives fire research lab and forensics lab as well as the Prince George's County Police Department, the county fire department's office of the fire marshal and the Prince George's County state's attorney's office to assist in the investigation.
Prince George's County State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said when an arrest or arrests are made, her office intends to file first-degree arson charges. She said the county will not tolerate anyone who wants to "wreak havoc" on its residents.
"You can be assured that you'll be apprehended, you will be thereafter arrested and you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," said Alsobrooks as a message to the offender.
O’Toole, 22, is still hospitalized in critical but stable condition at Washington Hospital Center with second- and third-degree burns over 50 percent of his body, Bashoor said Wednesday.
O’Toole faces six months of rehabilitation as a result of his injuries, according to his family during a Sunday news conference outside the hospital.
Sorrell, 21, who suffered inhalation burns, was released Tuesday night and was unable to speak for a day and a half, Bashoor said. Bashoor said Sorrell can now speak but will still require physical therapy.
Bashoor said anyone with information should call Prince George's County Police Department's Crime Solvers line at 1-866-411-TIPS or text 274637 with the letters "PGPD" plus a message.
Residents can also call the fire department at 301-77-ARSON or email firstname.lastname@example.org.