State College, Penn State police investigate series of fires

mcarroll@centredaily.comJanuary 16, 2014 

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Penn State police are investigating a fire that destroyed a storage shed early Tuesday morning in a parking lot on the university’s western edge of campus. Police said the fire was arson, January 15, 2014.

NABIL K. MARK — CDT photo Buy Photo

Three fires in two days, including one that destroyed a storage shed on the Penn State campus, have caught the attention of officials in State College.

Fire crews were called to back-to-back Dumpster fires at about 1:30 a.m Monday along Calder Alley and East Beaver Avenue.

A day later, flames destroyed a storage shed early Tuesday morning in a parking lot on the western edge of the Penn State campus.

Penn State police have said that fire is being investigated as an arson. State College police are assisting in the investigation, and authorities are working to determine whether that blaze and the Dumpster fires are related.

Steve Bair, the Centre Region fire director, said authorities are wary of a possible escalation when several small fires happen in a short amount of time.

“You’re always concerned about these kinds of fires,” Bair said. “If you have someone who is trying to entertain themselves, and they see a small fire doesn’t get a big response, they might move on to something bigger.”

Bair said even a small fire poses a serious threat for responding firefighters.

“A lot of times, people set something on fire without even really thinking,” he said. “What seems like it might not be a big deal can quickly turn into a problem — it moves quicker than you thought, it’s closer to something than you thought.”

Firefighters were called to the shed blaze at 12:41 a.m. in the Red A parking lot next to the university soccer fields on North Atherton Street. The shed had been used to store soccer equipment, which was destroyed in the fire.

Bair urged residents to be vigilant and to call authorities if they have information or witness a crime.

“It’s a crime,” he said. “It costs taxpayers money, business owners money. Whatever was lost in the university shed wasn’t free.”

State College police Lt. Keith Robb said investigators are still probing another fire that destroyed a storage shed on a fraternity’s property in November.

Robb said that earlier fire is believed to be unrelated to the latest incidents.

In that case, police said the fire at Alpha Gamma Rho, 322 Fraternity Row, was “suspicious” and that a cushioned chair was used to ignite it. When police arrived, they found the storage shed on fire.

A fraternity member saw three men in the vicinity of the shed right before the fire was discovered.

Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter.

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