Serial arsonist is terrorizing community on Eastern Shore

Posted at 7:44 PM, Mar 20, 2013

ACCOMACK COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) -- Since November 2012 more than 70 arson fires have been set on Virginia's Eastern Shore in Accomack County.

"This is a nice community. We are good people here. This stuff doesn't happen," Timmy Pruitt, a lifelong Accomack resident, said.

Despite the sentiment, the flames keep ravaging structures in the area -- most of them abandoned -- and the county's volunteer fire departments have been charged with the tiring task of putting them all out.

"It's just been a tough time catching the person behind them," said Jody Bagwell, a fire chief in the county.

Bagwell said the hardest part is that volunteer firefighters do not get paid and that he and others must work their regular job during the day and prepare for the next "arson" call at night.

"It has been fairly tiring. Pretty much you expect a call every night," Bagwell said.

Because of the workload, the community has offered the department donations to help with depleted funds relating to fuel costs and beverages.

For residents the last several months have also been frustrating.

"There is a lot of evil going on right now," George Floyd said. Floyd lives next to a vacant lot where a fire was set in December.

When asked if he thought more resources would be given to the county if it was more populated, Floyd responded "yes without question."

That is not the feelings of firefighters, however, who believe the state police have provided adequate resources including offering a reward for $25,000 for the arsonist's capture.

Many residents are worried that the arsonists motives may evolve.

While no one has yet been injured or killed as a result of the fires, residents fear someone will.

"A serial arsonists motive is not murder," Mike Banks, a forensic psychologist, said.

Banks emphasized that the investigation must focus on people who are in the crowds at the time of the fire.

"In many cases the same individual will be somewhere in the vicinity of that fire in order to watch what is going on," Banks said.

That theory has led to the speculation that the arsonist may be a firefighter, something Jody Bagwell says is impossible.

"A firefighter is someone that helps people - an arsonist is someone that isn't helping anybody," Bagwell said.

Anyone with information relating to the case is asked to call Virginia State Police.