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Neighbors Scoff As Fire Officials Deny Arson Problem

Tuesday, August 07, 2012


After two weekend fires in the Pleasant Street neighborhood, officials are denying it was arson.

Community organizers are outraged as the police and fire departments deny that there is an issue with arson in the Pleasant Street neighborhood.

These claims come just days after large fires displaced over 40 residents from two rooming houses just 300 ft. apart.

Neighbors Figure it Out

Kevin Ksen, a member of the Pleasant Street Neighborhood Network Center, said fire officials didn’t even acknowledge a pattern until neighbors put it together.

After a fire on 86 Pleasant St. in June, Ksen said the neighbors began talking and discovered over a dozen dumpster fires had occurred in the area.

“The fire department told us they don’t normally keep a tally of fires, but after we brought this to them they compiled a list of 27 dumpster fires in the area,” Ksen said.

Police and Fire Officials Response

Two fires ignited over the weekend at 115 Pleasant St. and 39 Irving St. and, while officials say the similarities seem suspicious, they adamantly opposed the possibility of an arsonist.

“We had five fires over the weekend and not all of them were in this neighborhood,” said Deputy Chief Geoffrey Gardell. “There are similarities, but we can’t rule out an accident either.”

Police Deputy Chief Edward McGinn, on the team investigating the fires, also said they do not believe there is an arsonist behind these flames.

“I’m hoping these are two separate cases,” McGinn said. “A lot of the people in these rooming houses are a step up from homeless. You have a lot of issues in there.”

Both officials stressed the investigations into these two fires are in the preliminary stages and said they won’t likely have any answers for months.

Community Outrage

At a packed community meeting on Monday night, neighbors were outraged that officials didn’t believe these fires were significant.

“We’re a little frustrated to hear we’re not the only neighborhood,” said Pleasant St. Neighborhood Network Chair Mary Keefe. “We are the only one with these major fires.”

Keefe and other neighbors called for a dedicated police officer in the neighborhood, better communication with non-English speakers in the community and a long-term commitment to rebuilding the neighborhood.

They also wanted to see a police video of the suspect, but McGinn declined to release the video at this point in the investigation.

City Councilor Konnie Lukes called out Police Chief Gary Gemme for missing the meeting.

“The least we can do is have the chief here to talk with business owners and neighbors,” Lukes said. “It would be more than just a symbolic gesture.”

City Response

City Manager Michael O’Brien assured neighbors that the city is committed to cleaning up the neighborhood and fixing the housing crisis in the city.

“We hope to address housing and bring ownership back to the neighborhoods,” O’Brien said.

At the suggestion of a resident, O’Brien also agreed to look at creating a task force the addressing the issues specifically in the Pleasant Street neighborhood.


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