29 Weekend Fires Set Near West Virginia College Campus

By VICKI SMITH | May 10, 2011

Five people have been charged with malicious burning in some of the 29 fires that kept Morgantown fire crews busy all weekend.

It was the end of finals week at West Virginia University, but the blazes didn’t appear to be part of organized celebrations, said Fire Capt. Ken Tennant. Rather, they were set randomly, both day and night, from Thursday night through Monday morning.

All 18 street fires and 11 trash bin fires were in the downtown and Sunnyside areas.

Tennant did not immediately release the names and ages of the five suspects but said he believes they are WVU students. He was working with the university to confirm. He said additional charges are pending.

WVU students have a longstanding tradition of celebrating key Mountaineer athletic victories and other big events with bonfires.

The university has worked with Morgantown officials for years to crack down on the practice of setting couches and other worn-out furniture ablaze in the streets. Students who are caught face not only criminal charges, but a range of academic penalties, up to and including expulsion.

A week ago, 22 fires were set as thousands of students poured into the streets to celebrate the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Tennant said he is concerned about the increasingly random nature of the latest fires, which seem to follow a pattern that emerged in the late 1990s.

“These were all hours of the day and night. There were no people around at some of them,” he said. “There’s no rhyme or reason for this stuff, other than the Dumpsters are overflowing because it’s move-out weekend.”

The city has had at least 93 fires so far this year, Tennant said, and if the trend continues, it could become the department’s busiest year since 1997.

Morgantown led the nation in the number of intentional street fires between 1997 and 2003, with a total 1,129 set.

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