MARISSA, IL (KTVI) – Investigators say they believe they’re looking for two separate arsonists in connection with a series of six fires over the past couple of weeks.
The first fire, which broke out on South Park Avenue January 21st, gutted a home. Paula Arrington lives next door with her boyfriend and daughter. They rushed to try and help as the fire spread from a back shed to engulf the entire home.
“He was banging on the door and I just screamed to kick the door in and so they did and the old lady came running downstairs and she was screaming, ‘Get out of my house!’”
All three residents got out without injury and the fire was quickly declared an arson. There would soon be more.
Last Monday, there were three more small fires on South Main Street, then two more Friday night into Saturday morning. One of those gutted the Academy building, a 124 year old former schoolhouse that was home to the village historical society. Investigators now believe that all were intentionally set, but they believe the first fire and the second five were sparked by different people.
“The first one was an occupied residence,” Marissa Police Chief Tom Prather said. “The others were not occupied. We do see differences in the first one and the other five, and in the other five we do see similarities, and that’s why we believe the five may be related but the first one is not.”
The one bit of good news in town, Monday was the fact that workers found more salvageable material inside the historical society building then they expected. A number of books only had covers damaged, with the printed pages intact. Many photo albums and computer discs also survived the flames.
“I was surprised,” public works employee and volunteer firefighter Rufus King said, “with the kind of heat that was inside of that I didn’t think there would be really much of anything left. There’s actually quite a bit.”
Investigators from the Illinois State Fire Marshal’s office were in town for much of the day, Monday. They were following up leads but volunteered little information on the status of the cases.
Meanwhile, residents of the town remain uneasy, with many, like Arrington leaving lights on and dogs in the yard on watch.
“Pretty much you’re sitting at home, you hear the sound of the fire department and everybody comes out to see what’s happening now. It’s pretty unnerving,” she said.
The police chief says creating that uneasy feeling should be a crime all its own.
“It’s almost like an act of terrorism,” he said. “When you know somebody is out there and could set a fire and you’re in your home and night and thinking of that, to me that’s terrorism.”
There’s also a sense of anger here.
“I’ll tell you what,” King said. “I think you’ve got enough people in town aggravated enough that it’s probably better off if one of us doesn’t catch him.”
Extra police and organized groups of residents are patrolling the streets at night, making sure there’s no sign of further trouble.
Meanwhile, a $10,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to an arrest for the setting of the first fire on South Park Avenue.