PULLMAN, Wash. – There's a new chapter in the string of suspected arsons that began on WSU's campus in Pullman two weeks ago; now investigators are working on a fourth.
Tuesday night around 10:00 p.m., a worker in the Fine Arts building smelled smoke, and called for help. A fire had been set in an enclosed concrete stairwell, but by the time police and fire crews arrived, it was out. Luckily, only minor damage was left behind this time, and ashes and spray paint cans were part of the evidence collected at the scene.
You may remember, the first fire destroyed a community center at the Nez Perce Apartments on May 22nd. On May 26th, the community center at the Chief Joseph Village Apartments was targeted – and also destroyed. Then May 29th, the heart of campus was hit, as the veterinary lab McCoy Hall was left with roughly $80,000 in damages. The cost of the three combined fires is an estimated $800,000.
Investigators took evidentiary samples from each arson – including fingerprints from at least two sites. The evidence is now being processed at the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab in Cheney, and investigators have asked that it be expedited. Chemical analysis is also being done to determine whether an accelerant was used. Officials are also reviewing surveillance video from various cameras on campus, to narrow down who may have been nearby when the fires broke out.
Assistant Chief of WSU Police, Steve Hansen, says this fourth fire is different from the first three because of its location. It was set in an enclosed stairwell where there weren't many fuels, and it would have been hard to spread. They don't know if all four fires are linked, or if there is one arsonist or more.
So far, there are no leads on a suspect. In his more than 25 years on the job, Hansen said he's never seen a string of four fires set in two weeks, and is worried.
"I think you always have that concern of whether or not there will be another one," he told FOX FIRST AT TEN. "From the preventative standpoint, we've had extra patrols out ever since we had the second and third fires.
They also created an Arson Task Force after the third fire, including WSU police, the fire marshal, and the police and fire departments from the City of Pullman. Hansen says if the arsonist's targets move off campus, the task force will be ready.
Early this week, they also created a tip line at 509-334-2499. If you've seen anything – or anyone – suspicious in the area, call it.