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ATF Joins Investigation Into 13 Arson Fires Spanning Several Miles in Washington State

Newsweek logo Newsweek 1/27/2022 Jake Thomas
North Tacoma saw a cluster of fires overnight Tuesday, which has attracted ATF investigators and put police on heightened alert. © ChrisBoswell/Getty Images North Tacoma saw a cluster of fires overnight Tuesday, which has attracted ATF investigators and put police on heightened alert.

Federal investigators have joined in the hunt for an arsonist believed to have set 13 fires in the Tacoma, Washington, area.

The fires broke out between Tuesday evening and early morning Wednesday, according to the fire department, in an area spanning several miles in the central and north ends of Tacoma, a city of of about 213,000 located south of Seattle.

Joe Meinecke, spokesman for the Tacoma Fire Department, told Newsweek that the fires occurred in residential settings, such as apartments, single-family homes, a detached garage and a car. The fires did not cause any injuries or deaths, he said.

"One of the big concerning things is that most of the fires took place in structures that were occupied," he said.

Meinecke didn't have details on the extent of the damage caused by the fires, but said they were "relatively minor," except for a larger one that gutted a two-story house.

One of the 13 fires occurred in Ruston, a small town on Tacoma's norther border. Officials are treating the fires as arsons. Agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have been brought in to work with local arson detectives to investigate their suspicious nature, said Officer Wendy Haddow, spokeswoman for Tacoma police.

Newsweek has reached out to the bureau for additional details.

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The Tacoma Police Department said Wednesday evening it has scheduled additional patrols to deter further arsons and respond to any criminal activity. The city of Ruston announced it would be "boosting nighttime patrol shifts by 100-300% for the foreseeable future" and using heat-detecting thermal devices to "see potential problems before it becomes visible to the human eye."

The Tacoma Fire Department has advised residents to trim or remove shrubbery that may block street views, remove trash or other materials that could be used to start fires, improve outside lighting and test smoke alarms.

The fires occurred in clusters in the city's north end and central area. Fire crews were initially dispatched to three fires within a mile of each other in the city's center around 8 p.m., reports The News Tribune. Crews later responded to a cluster of fires in the city's north end around 11 p.m. and early Wednesday morning.

Central Tacoma resident Warren Crain, 60, told the paper heard sirens Tuesday evening and smelled smoke while taking his dog for a walk. He didn't see any flames until he returned home and saw flaming porch furniture at a house along the way.

"I'm going to be careful, but I'm not going to let the paranoia win," Crain told the paper.

The last fire was extinguished at around 3 a.m. Wednesday, said Meinecke. Roughly 30 fire department personnel were dispatched along with 10 fire engines and other vehicles, he said.

Meinecke said the city has previously seen arsons, but nothing comparable to the string of fires that occurred overnight Tuesday.

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