, Salem, MA

Local News

July 16, 2014

Folger Avenue arson ruling was 'process of elimination'

Typical causes of house fires not possible in this case

BEVERLY — State investigators say they used a “process of elimination” to determine that Sunday’s night fire on Folger Avenue was set intentionally.

“They’ve managed to eliminate all other possible ignition scenarios where the fire started,” said Jennifer Mieth, a spokeswoman for the state fire marshal’s office. “It’s deductive reasoning, a process of elimination until they’re left with only one possible cause.”

Beverly fire Chief Paul Cotter said Monday that the fire could have been set accidentally, but the state fire marshal’s office later sent out a press release saying it was “intentionally set.”

Cotter acknowledged on Tuesday that there is a “fine line” between determining whether a fire was set accidentally or on purpose without direct evidence or an eyewitness.

“We truly don’t know until we come up with some information,” he said. “Hopefully, people will come forward. Just looking at the size of the fire and the fact that you would have to bring something there to cause the fire, we’re saying it was deliberate. Whether they meant it to get that big, you don’t know. You hope not.”

The fire destroyed the two unoccupied houses and damaged eight other homes on the cul-de-sac. Residents had to be evacuated, but nobody was hurt.

Cotter said usual causes of house fires, such as problems with electrical or gas systems, were not possible in this case because the buildings were under construction.

Cotter said a cellphone was found behind the house where the fire started. Investigators questioned the owner of the phone and determined that the person was innocent.

Officials are offering up to $5,000 through the Arson Watch Reward Program for information that would help them solve the case.

“We’re hoping that will shake the tree,” Cotter said. “It’s worked in the past. In most arson cases, unless you’re caught in the act or somebody sees them, it’s pretty difficult. I’m sure somebody up there knows something.”

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or




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