How firefighters are working to stay ahead of Petersburg arsonist

PETERSBURG, Va.— Firefighters battled a suspicious fire at a vacant home in a Petersburg neighborhood Thursday night rocked by recent arson fires.

Fire crews responded to a call for a fire at a house along the 600 block of W. Washington Street.

Like other fires at vacant homes in the area, firefighters said the blaze started on a back porch.

Sources confirmed to CBS 6 senior reporter Wayne Covil that the was indeed suspicious and in the same neighborhood as four other arson fires that have occurred over the past two months.

Fire at house in 600 block of W. Washington Street.

Fire at house in 600 block of W. Washington Street.

Thursday night's blaze is the fifth suspicious fire at a vacant house in the neighborhood since July:

  1. July 30 -- 618 W. Washington
  2. Aug. 14 -- 610 W. Washington
  3. Aug. 17 -- 20 Pine Street
  4. Sept. 1 -- 825 W. Washington
  5. Sept. 6 -- 636 W. Washington

How firefighters plan to stop arsonist 

Petersburg Fire Captain Dan Macaluso said the spate of the recent fires is unusual.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve seen anything like this when it comes to a rash of suspicious fires in such a small, concentrated area,” Macaluso said.

However,  Macaluso said the department is prepared -- and has a plan -- in case the culprit strikes again.

Plan of attack to battle Petersburg arson fires

Plan of attack to battle Petersburg arson fires

“The pre-plan basically goes over the area that the fires have recently taken place," Macaluso explained. "We laid out where the hydrants are going to be, the direction the different fire engines are going to come from, what hydrant they’ll take and what position based on what structure is on fire.”

In fact, firefighters have an aerial view of the homes in the area that could be targets. Some of the homes are marked with an “o” for occupied and others are marked with a “v” for vacant.

“The structure that actually caught on fire last night is this one right here and you can see it’s right in the center of this picture,” Macaluso pointed out.

Fire officials said their pre-plan could be the difference between life and death in a situation where every second counts.

“We look at the potential that someone could stay here, because we do have a homeless population in the city,"  Macaluso said. "So unfortunately, [if] the structure looks vacant doesn’t mean it is. So we make sure we get our tactics towards rescue and protecting the life that we can.”

Thursday's fire remains under investigation and has not yet been ruled arson.

Depend on and CBS 6 News for complete coverage of this important local story. This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can submit a news tip here.