The arsonist who has been plaguing the Newberry section of the city since early April, setting nine fires, has worked at night - usually between 2 and 4 a.m.
That changed Saturday when a fire was set outside of the home of John Cerquozzi, 2734 Dove St., sometime between 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Cerquozzi had been doing some spring cleaning and added trash to the trash pile near his shed around 10:30 a.m. At about 7 p.m., he noticed that a cardboard box in his trash pile had fire damage and reported the incident to city police.
SAVANNAH M. BARR/Sun-Gazette
City Fire Chief C. Dean Heinbach reviews security camera footage as part of the investigation into the string of arsons in Newberry. Fire authorities are using every available resource to investigate the crime.
Because Cerquozzi had been near the trash pile earlier in the morning, fire investigators have determined that it is the first Newberry arson fire set in the daylight hours.
The box smoldered and burned itself out, according to Chief C. Dean Heinbach.
"With these little fires, like boxes or flags that get burned, people may not feel it is necessary to report the incident. But every arson fire needs to be investigated," Heinbach said.
"Even with these smaller fires, we may be able to gather evidence that the
average person wouldn't notice, such as footprints or fingerprints," he said.
Anyone who notices unexplained fire damage to their property, or sees a fire, is encouraged to call authorities immediately. Heinbach said people should not touch the burned objects, or they may unintentionally contaminate crucial evidence.
He also suggested that residents clean up around their homes and take items such as discarded furniture, trash bags or old boxes to the dump.
"We don't want to provide any so-called targets for this person," he explained.
Four out of the nine arson fires have been set in trash cans, Dumpsters or boxes.
"If you see something unusual, someone hanging around who isn't supposed to be there, someone acting strangely, call the fire station, the hotline, or 911 immediately," he said.
"I think it's terrible that we have elderly residents afraid to go to sleep at night - people who are scared - because of the actions of one disturbed individual," he said.
Heinbach said investigators have "several people in mind" that they are investigating as suspects. But he repeated the need for vigilance from Newberry residents.
"Some people may not want to call the hotline for one reason or another, but the hotline is completely confidential and every bit of information helps," he said.
"We're going to catch this person; they're going to slip up eventually," Heinbach added.