Arson is suspected in four fires that erupted late Monday and early Tuesday in a five-block radius in Harvey, a fire official said. No injuries were reported in the fires, which occurred between 11 p.m. Monday and 2 a.m. Tuesday in a church, an apartment building and two abandoned houses, said Willie Buie, deputy chief of the Harvey Fire Department.
Because the fires were in the same time frame and so close to one another, investigators are trying to determine if they are connected, Buie said.
He said the fires prompted an investigation by the Harvey Police and Fire Departments, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Illinois state fire marshal.
Flames engulfed the basement pantry of the New Mt. Olive Baptist Church in the 15000 block of Wood Street about 1:20 a.m., Buie said.
The fire destroyed food meant for more than 400 needy families served every month by the church, officials said.
"It looks as though someone gained entrance to our building through one of the basement windows and started a fire," Rev. Ferlander Lewis of New Mt. Olive told WGN-Ch. 9.
"Those who are unable to either afford food or just don't have the means or wherewithal to maintain a healthy lifestyle ... this is going to have a big impact on them. It's devastating," Lewis said.
Lewis said he believed the fire was deliberately set because the church doors were locked and officials found what may have been accelerants inside.
The blaze was confined to the pantry, and there was no other damage to the church, Buie said.
About 40 minutes later, fire was reported at a three-flat apartment building at in the 15000 block of Marshfield Avenue, Buie said.
He said residents reported seeing or smelling smoke in the building.
The deputy chief said a device, such as a Molotov cocktail, was the cause.
"Someone threw something through the window and started a carpet fire," Buie said.
The fire occurred in a vacant ground-level rental space, where it was contained, he said. There was no damage to the rest of the building.
Before those fires, firefighters battled flames at two abandoned houses within a 1 1/2-hour span, Buie said.
A fire in the 15000 block of Page Avenue happened around 11 p.m. Monday, he said. The other house fire occurred around 12:30 a.m. in the attic of a house on the 100 block of West 158th Street. Several fires have erupted at the Page Avenue house in the last two months, he said. Both houses were left uninhabitable.
Harvey police are offering a $1,000 reward for information that could assist the investigation.
Written by Chicago Tribune
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