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Recent 'Suspicious' West Campus Fires under Investigation

By A. Arif Husain
Staff Reporter

Four suspicious fires in West Campus dormitories, the Student Center, and the Chapel have been reported to the Campus Police since mid-December, according to Chief Anne P. Glavin. The incidents follow in the wake of a series of fires at Burton-Conner House in October and an early-December fire at MacGregor.

On Dec. 14 the stairwell suite door in MacGregor House suite J21 was discovered in flames, Graduate Resident Tutor Russell Tessier G said. The door had been decorated with wrapping paper and a bow for the holiday season. The /Campus Police also found that smoke detectors on the second and third floors of the entry had been disabled, he said.

"I don't know what the motivation [for the fire] was. [The room] may have just been a convenient target," Tessier said.

This incident occurred just over a week after a burning toilet-paper roll in an adjacent suite caused a building-wide evacuation ["Fire in MacGregor Causes Evacuation," Dec. 6]. Investigators do not know who is responsible and have not made a connection between the two incidents, said MacGregor Housemaster Stephen J. Lippard.

"I believe many residents of J-Entry feel insecure inasmuch as the arsonist appeared to be more interested in causing actual injury to residents - i.e., by deactivating smoke alarms - than in creating mischief," said Daniel A. Freedman '98, a resident of J21.

"[Campus Police] has done pretty much all that they could," said Karyn M. Green '95, another suite resident, who feels she must respond to the fire with increased awareness.

Christmas tree also burnt

The following day, the Holiday Tree that stood in front of the Student Center was found alight by a Campus Police officer.

The officer noticed flames near the bottom of the tree at 2:40 a.m. while on patrol and quickly unplugged the lights that had been strung around the tree. The Cambridge Fire Department was called to extinguish the fire, Glavin said. She said that the incident did not seem to be accidental due to other findings, but refused to comment further.

A minor incident was reported on Dec. 21 when paper ashes were found around midnight near the entrance to the Baker House roof deck, House Manager Kenneth F. Winsor said.

That area is generally desolate at this time of year and the finding looked a little suspicious, Winsor said. That was a time when a lot of suspicious fires were happening so everything was being looked into, he said.

The incident did not cause any damage, and no followup is being conducted, Winsor said.

On the night of Dec. 30, a small trash bin fire was spotted by a Student Center manager outside of the MIT Chapel, Glavin said. The fire was suspicious since paper and litter were found in the bin, which had been emptied earlier that evening, Glavin said. The fire went out by itself before the fire department arrived, she said.

No evidence has been found to connect the various incidents, and investigators are still searching for a motive, Glavin said. Because they took place so soon after each other, all of the incidents are under the active investigation of the Campus Police in conjunction with the Cambridge Fire Department, Glavin said. Some cases require more aggressive followup, she added.

"The fact that we've had so many [fires] is cause for concern and is the reason why we're investigating," Glavin said. "These are very serious situations and we're viewing them with a high degree of seriousness."