Four fires in four years created concern. Cox said one was accidental, one is undetermined and then two were intentionally set.
“We had a fire on a vacant duplex that has a specific M.O. ... — the fire and the way it started had a specific M.O., the way the fire was set. ... In turn, [we] buried in the back of our head. We worked the case; nothing came out, no suspects. It’s still an open investigation,” Cox said of the 2012 blaze. “Then, about a month ago, we had a second fire almost directly across the road from this fire I’m telling you [about], almost to a T the same M.O.
“Bartow County has an arsonist loose in Paige Street area. It can be anybody. These buildings, as far as I can tell, have no common denominators except for location.”
Under the Official Code of Georgia Annotated 16-7-60, a person commits first-degree arson when, using fire or explosives, they knowingly damage or knowingly cause, or has another to damage property.
“We may have some fires that are quote-unquote undetermined, under investigation. That does not mean that there is an illegal activity going on. That just means that we’ve got a good idea, we got a hunch, but due to circumstances, the amount of damage done to the building, something along that line, we may exactly be able to put our finger on it just yet,” Cox said. “... The average of the true, under the letter of the law, you go from either accidental to undetermined, incendiary, meaning an intentionally set fire. When it becomes arson you have a suspect in mind that you can name if you had to. An incendiary fire is a criminal act that someone did something to destroy a property by fire, an explosion, according to the Georgia code.
“That’s why we are careful not to call them arson now. That’s why we have an arsonist. We have someone in this community or someone who has access to this community ... As you can see this is a dead-end street — one way in, one way out, or on foot. It’s brassy either way.”
Aside from the dead end location, the Paige Street area backs up to a residential neighborhood where at least two homes have a clear view of the residence lost in the first fire. According to Cox, however, a canvas of the neighborhood revealed none of the residents heard or saw anything.
In the conflagration last month, the suspect(s) followed the same pattern at the fire in 2012 — pushing available home furnishings against the rear exterior of the residence and setting the pieces on fire. Both fires also occurred between midnight and 3 a.m.
While the first duplex burned was not vacant, no one was home at the time of the fire. Last month, the resident in the adjoining unit was sleeping.
“I’m seeing this person or persons increase. This is typical crime growth increase. We’ve got somebody that’s elevating their game. One half of this one was occupied at the time of the fire,” Cox said. “If it hadn’t been for a neighbor across the road who put the fire in check for us — you seen how much damage was done to that one — we could have very easily had a fatality.”
And, Cox said, the escalation of the suspect’s actions increase concerns of injury or damages.
“People say, especially with the economy and the housing market, ‘I’ll let the insurance company pay for it. It’s not hurting anybody,’” he said. “My message has not changed. ‘Yes, you are hurting somebody. You are putting people’s lives in danger. ‘Well, you are a firefighter; you signed up for this.’ We didn’t sign up to die. We signed up to do all we could to protect life, then property. There is no firefighter’s life worth a piece of property. It’s not an acceptable loss.”
If an arrest is made, authorities will seek prosecution.
“You are going to be held responsible for your actions to the fullest extent of the law,” Cox said.
Anyone with information on either incident on Paige Street is asked to call Cox’s office at 678-721-5495 or the Georgia Arson Control hotline at 1-800-282-5804. Calls to the state tipline may remain anonymous and are eligible for a reward of up to $10,000 for the arrest and conviction of the suspect.
“My job as an investigator, I rule out all accidental — I don’t go in saying, ‘Ah, I got an arson fire.’ No. Rule out all accidental causes that can be ruled out, and once I rule all those out, they ain’t but one thing left: Someone’s actions intentionally caused this fire,” Cox said. “We need the community’s help on this one. Someone knows something.”