Niagara Gazette


June 23, 2014

NT investigators search for clues after rash of Fifth Avenue fires

North Tonawanda police continue to investigate a string of fires, seemingly cases of arson, that sent rescue workers to Fifth Avenue four times in less than 36 hours on Friday and Saturday, with three of those incidents emanating from the same house. 

The first of the four blazes began at 5:51 a.m. Friday at 7 Fifth Ave., small in comparison to the three that began a few hours later, said North Tonawanda Fire Chief John Lapham. 

By 3:28 p.m. Friday, firefighters were again called a few doors down from the first, to 19 Fifth Ave., a location they would soon come to know well. 

Less than nine hours later, at 12:27 a.m. Saturday, a third fire was discovered on the street, again at 19 Fifth Ave., shortly followed by another 4:27 p.m. call to the same address. 

"The first three were relatively small," Lapham said. "The last one the whole back of the house was in flames." 

Several nearby homes also were damaged, he added, while the home at 19 Fifth Ave. incurred at least $20,000 in damages from the fire. 

Police and fire officials aren't saying whether they have ruled the rash of calls as arson, though a police categorized it as such in a report.

Chief William Hall said the department can say little as the investigation continues, a sentiment seconded by Lapham, who said both city entities are now working together closely through a task force. Additionally, he said, the Niagara County Sheriff's Department Crime Scene Unit gathered forensic evidence that is now being examined.  

A press release from the fire department noted the task force had determined "multiple origin points" for the fires and that officials have "ruled out any accidental origin" but not "human origin."  

They have also reached out to neighbors of the street, who Lapham indicated were rattled from the fires and worried when the next one may come. Investigators have sent out calls for any first-hand witnesses or video evidence that may have come into play. 

Lapham said "it was not conclusive" the fires were arson at this juncture. 

"They're similar in nature and we have samples into the lab which is running forensics," he said. 

Those who may have information about the fires can call North Tonawanda Police Department detectives at 692-4312.



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