Officials continue to investigate another suspicious fire reported in Hamilton Township.
Investigators with the Hamilton Township Volunteer Fire Department believe an arsonist could have started a fire at a vacant home owned by George Otte at 7434 N. County Road 100E around 8 p.m. Saturday.
The latest blaze brings the tally to six suspicious fires that have destroyed properties in northern Jackson County since July 2017.
The most recent fire comes after the International Association of Arson Investigators issued a $5,000 reward earlier this month for information that leads to an arrest in the cases.
Hamilton Township Fire Chief Donald Schnitker said he could not comment on the details of the latest fire since it is under investigation, but he said the area and origin of the fire make it suspicious. There was electricity at the home that caught fire Saturday evening, but no one was living there.
The Indiana State Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating all of the fires. Anyone with information should call 800-383-4628.
Schnitker said he recently spoke with representatives from the International Association of Arson Investigators, which reported no tips have been called in.
The department is encouraging local residents who own vacant structures or ones that are rarely used to make sure they are secure. The department also recommended trail cameras be used to monitor the area to observe any potentially suspicious activity.
Schnitker met with the Indiana State Fire Marshal’s Office earlier this month to discuss the cases.
“They’re connected somehow, but we don’t know if it’s one individual or a group of people responsible,” he said.
There are several factors that have made the fires suspicious and led officials to determine they were set intentionally.
In all but one of the fires, utilities were not turned on at the residences, Schnitker said, and all of the properties were vacant except for one home. It was not occupied at the time of that fire, though, he said.
The first reported fire was July 1, 2017, at a camper at 59 E. County Road 1050N. That was followed by a barn fire Oct. 5, 2017, at 512 E. County Road 1050N.
On May 5, a house at 10942 N. County Road 25E burned down, and then just three to four hours later, another house burned down at 10636 N. County Road 25E.
Schnitker said all of the fires happened after 11 p.m. and were in rural areas. He also said it’s not believed any of the cases are the result of insurance fraud.
He is confident someone knows something about the fires that could help prevent another one from happening.
“It’s concerning for anyone that lives out in this area, especially if you have a vacant home on your property,” he said. “There’s some concern that it could escalate.”
All of the fires have required assistance from other area fire departments, which has caused unnecessary risk because the fires have been started intentionally.
“When two to four other departments are responding with their vehicles and manpower, there’s an unnecessary risk being taken to deal with this,” he said. “The community needs to know that there are risks and hazards associated with this.”
It also creates added expense for the departments in fuel and insurance costs.
Schnitker hopes the reward will help solve the cases and prevent other fires.
“We hope the reward will encourage somebody that knows something to speak up,” he said.
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There have been six fires in Hamilton Township that officials believe to have been suspicious.
If you have information, call the International Association of Arson Investigators at 800-383-4628.
The organization has offered a $5,000 reward for those with information that leads to an arrest.