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19-year-old charged with setting 9 Pa. fires

Associated Press / February 20, 2009
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COATESVILLE, Pa. - A 19-year-old described as a pyromaniac who liked to watch things burn was charged yesterday with setting nine fires in an arson-plagued steel town, including a block-long blaze that displaced dozens of people last month.

Roger Leon Barlow Jr. of nearby Downingtown was charged with arson, aggravated assault, and related counts. He was arraigned yesterday afternoon and his bail was set at $9 million.

Authorities also arrested Mark Gilliam, 20, of West Chester, on a federal charge in the Jan. 25 attempted arson of a restaurant in Thorndale.

Barlow is a pyromaniac who liked to watch things burn, Chester County District Attorney Joseph Carroll said. Barlow told investigators Wednesday that he set the fires, all of them since Jan. 2, according to a police affidavit.

Carroll would not discuss a motive for the blazes at a news conference yesterday. He said he does not believe the fires were gang-related, hate crimes, or targeted at specific individuals.

Coatesville, about 35 miles west of Philadelphia, has tallied 18 arsons this year and 26 last year, one of them fatal. Residents have said they are scared to go to bed at night for fear another fire will break out.

Carroll said Barlow set a fire late last month that tore through 15 row homes on a single block, displacing about 50 residents and causing an estimated $1.2 million in damage.

With a suspect under arrest, Carroll said residents should be able to sleep easier, "although I'm not convinced this is the only person involved."

Barlow set his last fire Feb. 3, but the last identified arson in the area was Feb. 6 at a trailer home in nearby East Fallowfield Township, Carroll said. Besides the 18 fires in Coatesville this year, there have been at least five outside the city limits.

In December, officials arrested three people believed to have been responsible for some of the arsons, including a fire that killed an 83-year-old woman.

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