RAYNHAM — A fire at an outbuilding at the Raynham Park racetrack may be part of a string of arson fires that have been set in vacant and abandoned buildings across Southeastern Massachusetts in the past five weeks, State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said today.
“Investigators believe this fire may be connected to the series of fires we are investigating … and we ask the public to to be vigilant,’’ Coan said in a statement today.
The fire was not in the grandstand of the racetrack that hosted dog racing until 2009, when Massachusetts voters approved a ballot question banning greyhound racing. The Raynham-Taunton track now operates as a simulcast business.
Track owner George Carney told reporters today that his staff were aware of the recent string of arson fires and that security was on alert. He said people were working on the grounds when the fire is believed to have been set, but no one heard or saw anything out of the ordinary.
“We’ve been watching,’’ Carney said. “But we figured it might happen to somebody else. We didn’t expect it to happen to us, to be honest with you.’’
Carney said he was not pleased that a building on his property was set afire, but he added he was relieved that no one was injured, and that the arsonist had not targeted the grandstand, which simulcasts races from around the country.
“We’re not happy about it,’’ he said, adding that he is checking to see if security cameras were trained on the area. “But we’re happy it took place where it did.’’
Raynham Fire Chief James T. Januse told reporters at the scene that the fire was set in a building that was once used to provide shelter for dogs and their owners between races. He said the fire was “definitely set’’ and that flames were “coming through the roof’’ when firefighters arrived.
Januse said he finds the wave of arson fires deeply unnerving.
“This has got me nervous, because we’ve got some big buildings in town,’’ the fire chief said. “You sleep with one eye open all the time.’’
Januse and Coan asked the public to contact investigators with any information that may help solve any one of the fires. In the case of Raynham Park, Januse asked that if anyone saw “cars racing out or whatever, we need to know. We’re asking for the public’s help.’’
On Monday, Coan’s office and Weymouth officials reported that a Sunday morning fire at 1235 Main St. in Weymouth was intentionally set.
“We are obviously concerned that any intentionally set fire in this region of the state could be connected to the series of fires we are investigating, but it is too soon to say at this point in time,’’ Coan said in a statement about the Weymouth fire.
Officials are asking anyone with information on any of the fires to contact them by calling the statewide Arson Hotline at 1-800-682-9229. Rewards of up to $5,000 may be available under the Arson Watch Reward Program, officials said.
More than a dozen fires have been set in towns in the last two months, including abandoned or unoccupied buildings in Plympton, Middleborough, and Quincy.
Coan and Halifax Fire Captain Matthew Cunningham both said that a fire inside a home on Elm Street in Halifax Monday evening is not connected to the fire spree. The fire, which gutted the home, was caused by a space heater being left too close to combustible materials.
Cunningham said that while fighting the fire, a small explosion occurred inside the house, but no firefighters were injured. The resident was not home at the time of the fire.