It was standing room only last night at the Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church as city officials briefed what seemed like the entirety of the greater Greenlake community on the ongoing investigation into a recent spate of arsons, including the 3-alarm blaze that took down three neighborhood eateries and a coffee shop a few weeks back.
Seattle Fire Marshall John Nelson fields questions from Greenwood residents
Turnout was such that the assembled representatives from the city's fire, police and public safety departments held a second, impromptu briefing to accommodate those who had been crowded out of the first.
But as for the investigation into the identity of the serial arsonist, details remain scant.There have been 14 confirmed arsons in the Greenwood-Phinney neighborhood since July, most of them at commercial businesses. Officials from the Seattle Fire Department have joined with Seattle Police and agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms to investigate, but thus far aren't sure whether the fires are being set by one or multiple suspects.
The only parallel between each arson that they've been able to discern thus far is that the fires are being set with trash, newspapers and whatever other "available accelerants" the suspect or suspects have found at the scene.
Assistant Police Chief Paul McDonough told the crowd that police have indeed stepped up patrols in the neighborhood. But the bottom line, he said, is that "there is a limit to what we can do, but the most important thing is to keep your eyes open."
Residents of Phinney-Greenwood have of course already been trained to report suspicious activity, and we have had fun in the past joshing residents for their seemingly expansive definition of it. But in this case, being quick to dial 911 when something looks or seems hinky is not just appropriate, it could also save lives.
"Arson is a crime of opportunity, and we need to lessen the opportunity for whoever is doing this," said McDonough.