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Suspects sought in fires at Md. subdivision

With 26 homes damaged, police seeking motive

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Investigators probing arsons at a suburban Washington housing development said yesterday they have several possible suspects and may make arrests soon.

Arsonists set 20 fires and tried to set 10 more last week in a subdivision under construction in Charles County, about 35 miles south of Washington. No one was hurt in the blazes, but 26 houses were damaged.

The fires caused an estimated $10 million in damage and were described as the largest residential arson case in Maryland history.

Captain Joe Montminy of the Charles County sheriff's department would not comment on the suspects, but said authorities hope to make an arrest within a week.

Early speculation was that the fires were set by environmentalists who believed the upscale houses were a threat to a nearby bog. But no evidence has been found to support that theory, police said.

Investigators recovered crude devices from the homes that failed to ignite and sent them to a federal lab for testing. The Washington Post reported yesterday that the accelerants were two types of cleaning solvents, one of which is used to clean metal.

Because of the scale of the crime scene, authorities believe at least two people were responsible for the arsons. Montminy said police are still investigating reports that a blue van drove from the scene as the fires broke out.

He said police have questioned all construction company employees and contractors who worked at the site, as well as security guards from a private company hired by the project's developer.

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