Juvenile sought in suspected arson at PHS
Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:00 AM
A juvenile is being sought for questioning in connection with one of three fires over the long Thanksgiving holiday in Philadelphia, the authorities said.
Philadelphia firefighters extinguish flames that destroyed the concession stand at the Philadelphia High School football field early Saturday morning. Investigators suspect arson and are looking for a juvenile.
Arson is suspected in two fires which destroyed a concession stand at Philadelphia High School on Byrd Avenue and damaged equipment at McKee's Pawn Shop on east Main Street, the city fire investigator ruled.
A third fire at a beauty shop and law office downtown was believed to be accidental, the authorities said.
The juvenile is wanted for questioning in connection with the school fire.
That fire and the one at McKee's were reported shortly after 5 a.m. on Saturday, according to the Philadelphia Fire Department.
Fire Investigator Steve Copeland said Monday that evidence from the concession stand at the high school pointed to arson, after a candy sucker was discovered a few feet from the scene.
Authorities believe theft was the possible motive, he said.
Dale Yates, a captain with the fire department, said firemen from both Station 2 and 3 were enroute to a reported fire at McKee's on Main Street when Station 3 firemen saw a column of smoke above the high school.
"Enroute, we saw the smoke and thought McKee's was fully engulfed if we could see the smoke from the station," he said. "Passing by we saw the flames and thought the school was on fire."
After reporting in to the battalion chief, the firemen from Station 3 were re-routed to the school.
Several 911 calls came in to report the fire at the high school as well, officials said.
The concession stand was completely destroyed, along with heavy damage to the surrounding pavilion and slight damage to the nearby ticket booth.
"Fire crews got there before it got worse," Copeland said.
School Board President Ron Sparnecht said he was upset over the incident.
"It's devastating to the school," he said. "I don't understand why anyone would do this."
At McKee's on east Main Street, a pair of weed eaters and a security screen were damaged by the fire, Copeland said. The building itself sustained no damage.
Robert Winstead, the manager for the shop, said a video of the incident only shows smoke.
"They [the perpetrators] cut through the chain link fence but couldn't get through the cattle panels we have set up," he said. "I guess they got upset and decided to burn it down."
Earlier, on Nov. 24, an individual was captured on security cameras at McKee's looking through windows and trying doors at around 1:30 a.m., Winstead said.
A front-door camera was damaged in that incident and has yet to be replaced, he said.
No cause for either fire has been determined, but Copeland said samples from both scenes have been sent to the state crime lab. Results are expected back in about a week.
The third fire downtown on Thanksgiving morning damaged Shear Gossip and Mars, Mars and Mars on Center Avenue.
While the exact cause of the blaze remains unknown, Assistant Fire Chief Steve Thomas said it appeared to be accidental.
The fire was reported at 6:48 a.m.
The beauty shop received fire, smoke and water damage while the law office received smoke damage, Thomas said.
A shared attic between the two received both fire and smoke damage.
Attorney James Mars said he was happy with the emergency responders' response.
"They were quick and did a fantastic job," he said. "If it had continued for another five minutes, we [the law office] could have been wiped out."
Despite the circumstances surrounding all three fires, plans are already underway to repair the damage.
Sparnecht said the school will "keep on trucking. We will fix everything and rebuild," he said.
"The stand was insured."
McKee's is also moving forward with new cameras on order.
"It'll be business as usual," Winstead said.
Mars said they will be moving to Eastgate Plaza until cleanup is complete at the law office.
Courtney Lovern, owner of Shear Gossip, said that despite the damage they were blessed the building wasn't destroyed.
"We'll have to completely redo the shop," she said. "The ceiling is falling in and the walls are destroyed. Despite this we'll be back after it's fixed."