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Fire that injured 7 firefighters ruled arson


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Photo by Jim Davis. Prince George’s County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor tells media outlets that the Riverdale Heights fire that injured seven firefighters has been ruled arson at a press conference last Wednesday at the Cranford-Graves Fire Services Building in Landover Hills.

Photo by Jim Davis. Prince George’s County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor tells media outlets that the Riverdale Heights fire that injured seven firefighters has been ruled arson at a press conference last Wednesday at the Cranford-Graves Fire Services Building in Landover Hills.

Published on: Friday, March 09, 2012

By Jim Davis

After an extensive joint investigation by Prince George’s County fire investigators, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Arson Task Force and Prince George’s County Police Department, the Riverdale Heights house fire that injured seven firefighters on Feb. 24 has been ruled arson.

“Our fire investigators and members of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms Arson Task Force have worked around the clock, and we will not stop until there is an arrest,” County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor said.

The fire occurred around 9 p.m. Feb. 24 at 6334 57th Avenue in Riverdale Heights.

Fire investigators have determined that someone also attempted to set a house next store on fire three weeks prior to the Feb. 24 fire.

“We have also ruled that incident as arson,” said Deputy Fire Chief Scott Hoglander.

When firefighters arrived Feb. 24, they encountered heavy fire coming from the basement area of the one-story house. Also, a car was parked in the driveway, fire officials said.

“Firefighters entered the house to conduct a search of the house due to the fact a car was parked outside and there was no one outside of the house,” said Mark Brady, Fire Department spokesman.

“As firefighters were exiting the house, a sudden rush of air from the high winds caused by either a door or a basement window being opened or broken out causing the fire to intensify and send a fireball of flames up the steps to the first floor and out the front door and on top of the seven firefighters,” Brady said.

The seven firefighters — from Bladensburg, College Park and Riverdale volunteer fire departments — were sent to the Burn Center at MedStar Washington Hospital Center with injuries sustained when the rare fireball hurled up the stairs before they could safely exit the burning house.

Five of the injured firefighters were treated and released from the hospital the following night.

Volunteer firefighter Ethan Sorrell from Bladensburg Volunteer Fire Department was released a few days later, Brady said. Sorrell’s throat and lungs were scorched from superheated air from his supply tank.

“Sorrell will require outpatient therapy, but is now able to speak,” Bashoor said.

Fire officials said Sorrell will receive his treatments in Durham, N.C., where he lived with his patents before relocating to Prince George’s County to be a live-in member at the Bladensburg Volunteer Fire Department.

Volunteer firefighter Kevin O’Toole, also from the Bladensburg Volunteer Fire Department, remains in “critical, but stable” condition with severe burns on his arms and hands.

“O’Toole’s burns cover about 50 percent of his body,” said Bashoor, who estimated O’Toole would remain in the hospital for “weeks and weeks.”

“This cowardly crime is unconscionable to me. I have assured the nearly 3,000 men and women of the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department — and I assure you — that we will leave no stone unturned to bring anyone responsible for this to justice,” Bashoor said.

Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks, said, “When we find the person or the individuals who did this, they will be charged with first-degree arson along with other charges.”

If found guilty, first-degree arson carries up to 30 years in prison and a $50,000 fine, Alsobrook said.

Bashoor is asking several outsiders to serve on a panel that will review safety aspects of the fire. Bashoor said he will release the panel’s unedited findings after the criminal case is closed.

Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department is seeking tips from the public regarding the arson fires on 57th Avenue in Riverdale Heights.

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