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Officials say 2 more Connellsville fires were arson

| Thursday, Aug. 19, 2004

Two small fires were reported within three hours of each other Wednesday morning in Connellsville, further fueling concern about the rash of arsons that have menaced the Fayette County community since October.

Police Chief Stephen L. Cooper said the fires occurred at occupied residences located just two blocks apart. Both have been ruled arson.

In the first incident, an alert neighbor spotted the 13th arson in the city during the past 10 months at the home of Benita Sledge, at 112 E. North Alley.

Cooper said a woman living at Connellsville Terrace, a senior citizen high-rise at 120 E. Peach St., noticed the fire on Sledge's rear porch at 6:40 a.m. yesterday. Sledge was in her home at the time of the fire, along with her young grandson and two other boys, but no one was injured, he said.

The fire was contained to the porch and caused minimal damage to items outside and to the house itself.

A spokesman for Fayette County 911 said firefighters were called to the home, but police were able to put out the blaze before crews arrived.

The second arson was reported at 9:48 a.m. at 119 E. Apple St. by a resident of the two-story, two-unit apartment building who awoke to find a burnt garbage bag and damage to the structure.

"One bag was moved away from the others and set on fire, which caused damage to the vinyl siding," Cooper said. "It apparently burned itself out. No firefighters were called."

Jim Tanda, resident agent in charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Pittsburgh field office, was at Sledge's home with Cooper yesterday morning when they learned of the second attempted arson.

"All three were set. The one at East Apple Street was set sometime between (Tuesday) afternoon and (Wednesday) morning," Tanda said.

Five or six people were in the house when the fire was set, he said.

"We're in the process of interviewing the people who are living there to see if someone may have seen something," Tanda said.

Yesterday's arsons followed another porch fire at 7:11 a.m. Monday at 1116 Race St. No one was home at the time.

Investigators are asking residents to keep a close eye on their neighborhoods.

Anyone with information about any of the recent fires in the city should call police at 724-628-2501, Ext. 110, the tip line at 1-888-ATF-FIRE (1-888-283-3473), or crime stoppers at 724-437-TIPS (724-437-8477).

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