Rash of Vacant Building Fires Being Investigated as Possible Serial Arsons

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Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara says city officials are looking into the possibility they are dealing with a serial arsonist after four vacant or partially-vacant buildings caught on fire over a span of ten days.  “We obviously believe there is some coordination with these fires,” he said during a news conference held Thursday afternoon.

“We’ve been incredibly fortunate that there’s been no loss of life,” McNamara added, noting the danger a large abandoned structure on fire poses to firefighters and the public at large.

But city officials are also being cautious in their assessment, and not releasing many details about the fires, which began with a blaze at the Hanley building in downtown Rockford and culminated with a fourth fire on 7th Street early Thursday morning.

“Definitely looking at the possibly of arson” at ‘multiple’ fire scenes Division Chief Matt Knott said at the news conference, although he would not specify which ones and added there could be other causes.  He also added that “Right now, we’re treating them as independent scenarios,” saying the department has not yet pieced together any coordination between them.

Chief Knott says that all four fires remain active investigations, and that state and federal resources are being brought in to help determined what caused each blaze.

In the case of the Hanley building, that building has already been mostly demolished, but Chief Knott says that helps investigators because it ensures their safety while they are doing their jobs.

The Fire Department is also taking undisclosed measures to deal with the possibility someone may be setting these fires.  “Obviously when we see the number of structures that we had, we certainly are increasing some of things that we do to try to prevent these,” Knott said while not offering specifics at this time.

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