Sunday, November 08, 2015

WEEKEND ARSONS: 12 Fires Since Saturday Puts Cops On Alert; Copycat Concerns As Month-Long Spree Escalates

• Color-coded incident map.
• Updated total fire count to 20, based on new information.
A series of at least 12 suspicious fires this weekend has residents in west Lakeview and North Center on high alert and has arson investigators wondering if they're dealing with a long-sought arsonist and, now, copycats.

CWB Chicago first reported on the arson investigation on October 28. At least 20 separate suspicious fires have been reported in the west Lakeview and North Center areas since October 12. 

Working from video of at least one fire being set, investigators have been looking for a possibly homeless white man in his late-40's to mid-50's who stands about 5'10" tall and has dark hair that appears to be thinning on top.

A coach house in the 1400 block of W. Diversey after an October 17 arson.
But new images secured during a fire spree Sunday night show children starting fires in the area.

“I’m talking between 7- and 10-years-old,” a cop said. "It’s a real good video. You can see faces.”

The concern now is that kids, having seen the work of the first suspect, have taken to starting fires of their own.

Fire damage in the 2800 block of N. Damen Sunday
(Matt Whitaker)
Seven intentionally-set blazes were reported in the troubled area over the course of eight hours Saturday night into Sunday morning.  And five more were reported in less than 15 minutes on Sunday night. No one has been injured.

Most of this weekend's fires started in garbage cans or dumpsters and three spread to nearby structures, according to sources who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak about the investigation.

"This was the scene I came home to at 3 o'clock this morning," North Center resident Matt Whitaker said as he shared photos of a burned-out garage and melted trash bins in the 2800 block of N. Damen. 

"This is the third fire in this block in two weeks," Whitaker said, "a row of garbage cans were set on fire, burning the garage behind them to its core." That fire then spread to Whitaker's own garage. 

Fire aftermath in the 2800 block of N. Ashland on Sunday.
About the same time as Whitaker's fire, another blaze was set behind a paint store in the 2800 block of N. Ashland. Flames shot up the adjacent building, but no structural damage was apparent.

A few blocks east of the hot zone, a resident of the 1200 block of W. Diversey woke up Sunday morning to discover that a fire had been set in their garage.

Officers reported the strong smell of gas, such as from a BBQ grill, was evident inside the structure.

A source said that investigators are not sure if the incident is related to other fires.

Sunday Spree: Kids?

A resident reported an alley fire near Damen and George at 9:45PM Sunday and four more fires were discovered by cops as they hunted for a suspect over the next 15 minutes. 

Burned out garbage cans in the 2800 block of N. Damen
(Matt Whitaker)
Some officers bravely pulled burning trash cans and debris away from nearby structures with their bare hands.

As Sunday's investigation continued, two witnesses in separate locations reported that the fires were set not by a homeless man, but by a group of very young boys.

Those reports were supported by home surveillance footage, police said.

Here is a map of suspicious fires reported in the west Lakeview and North Center areas since October 12:

Blue markers indicate fires that have been officially declared arson. (Image via Batchgeo)

Images: Photos of fire damage from this weekend's incidents from Matt Whitaker and CWB Chicago readers.


  1. Couple of observations...
    the rolling dumpster cans really burn up easily as they are plastic so roll them into the garage until the morning of pickup. With the cold weather now, they shouldn't smell too much.

    Hope cops are crusing around after the calls come in as arsonists like to stick around and watch their work.

    Maybe a moratorium on gas sold in cans, though people will need for their snow blowers soon.

    Don't store you gas grill gas container in the garage with the grill. Leave it in the backyard covered with a plastic bag.

  2. Any description of these "boys"?

    1. Nothing consistent between the two witnesses except they were young, male, and running.

    2. Now, according to Tunney, if these people had hired private security to watch their property, this would not have happened.

  3. As more and more condo buyers are avoiding Lakeview because of the high crime rates, you will have difficulty selling your home. You could always hire these young men to burn down your home so you can collect the insurance money.

  4. There has been another fire tonight on the 1900 block of West Diversey parkway. This is the exact same alley as the second to last photo above, about 6 buildings down. I spoke to a fireman and he said the arsons were the cause. Thinking this is the biggest fire yet. This time it wasn't contained to just garbage cans, and it spread to an entire apartment building which is now destroyed. Dozens of firetrucks and police lined Diversey. Not sure if everyone is even okay. Hasn't made the news yet, just happened a few hours ago, but I'm sure it will. These people need to be arrested immediately.

  5. Better sell your place in Lakeview now, before prices in places like Brighton Park, Jefferson Park, Berwyn and Forest Park go up. And that's not a joke.
    Taxes and rent have gone way up because certain brackets in the city will continue to pay them, despite the reduced policing and city services.
    You want to live near or in the city and not be gouged by taxes or teens with weapons from a youth center? Better act fast with before "fringe" neighborhoods and towns become inflated.