Past stories Multimedia

Lawyer: No fair putting client in cell with another alleged arsonist

The attorney for the Coatesville firefighter accused of starting two house fires said authorities had intentionally placed his client in a prison cell with another accused arsonist to get his client to confess to crimes he did not commit.

Defense hints at alibi for firefighter

The defense's alibi for a suspended firefighter accused of starting two fires in Coatesville is that he left his five children home alone while he went to buy cocaine in the city.

Coatesville becomes case study for arson

Back in August, a volunteer firefighter was charged in connection with a string of fires just outside this distressed former steel town — in what turned out to be a false cause for hope that the worst was over.

An inside struggle to thwart arsonists

More than 15 years ago, national public safety experts noticed a problem.

Firefighter hiring practices criticized

Just days after police arrested a city firefighter for allegedly setting houses on fire, city officials are facing criticism for Coatesville's employee hiring process.

Arson arrest shocks city

The fire company where an accused arsonist volunteered for 21 years is working to rebuild a trusting relationship with the community.

Coatesville firefighter charged with setting fires

A paid city firefighter, the son of an arson victim, was charged Monday with intentionally setting two houses on fire.

More arsons rekindle city fear

Two intentionally set fires in the city Friday night are the 28th and 29th arsons in the Coatesville area this year.

Two more fires in Coatesville

Investigators in Coatesville determined that the fires were arsons.

Latest blaze reignites residents concern

The arson that occurred on East Valley Road has sent a new wave of fear through the many city residents who had hoped that, with the arrests of two suspected arsonists last month, the area's crisis was over.

Arsonist hits city again

A fire that severely damaged two adjacent houses on the 200 block of East Valley Road was intentionally set, according to law enforcement officials.

Hearing held for arson suspect

Roger Leon Barlow Jr., the teenager authorities contend is responsible for nine of the arsons that have plagued Coatesville over the past several months, confessed not once but twice to setting the blazes, an investigator said Friday at his preliminary hearing.

Hearing waived; help for victims

A man accused of intentionally setting a house on fire here waived his preliminary hearing; meanwhile, the governor is seeking federal assistance for arson victims.

Grant to help provide smoke alarms

A local business is donating $5,000 to Coatesville area fire departments to purchase smoke detectors and batteries for area residents and businesses.

Accused arsonist to stand trial

A federal prosecutor on Friday said circumstantial evidence and statements from witnesses and friends all point to Mark Gilliam being responsible for setting a small fire at a Thorndale restaurant in January.

Quilters hope to stitch together community torn apart by arson

Retired Coatesville Area school teacher Bobbie Spaid never thought the day would come when she would be sewing.

Arson rattles school district

Despite an intentionally set fire damaging seven school buses in a middle school parking lot early Sunday morning, officials said bus operations within the Coatesville Area School District remained on schedule Monday.

City to tap its trust fund

City Council on Monday approved a $200,000 withdrawal from the city's trust fund, a two-week extension of the city's state of emergency and the filing of a grant application that will bring $500,000 in arson-related aid from the state.

Seven buses damaged in fire ruled arson

A fire that damaged seven buses at North Brandywine Middle School early Sunday morning has been declared an arson by the the Chester County Arson Task Force.

Neighbors, family shed light on alleged arsonists

He was described by one neighbor as "a young man who would do anything for you."

Records say firebug buddies shared stories

The second suspect arrested this week in connection with a string of arsons plaguing the Coatesville area was a friend of the Downingtown teen who allegedly set nine of the 23 fires, including a blaze that destroyed 15 homes.

Two arrested in arson investigation

Police charged two men Thursday in connection to a string of arsons that has plagued the Coatesville area since the start of the year.

Neighbors stunned by accusations

Residents in the 200 block of West Pennsylvania Avenue said they were shocked to find out that an alleged arsonist lived nearby.

'I hope all residents can get some sleep tonight'

Local, county, state and federal authorities announced the arrest of an alleged arsonist Thursday evening, but stressed the investigation is not over and additional arrests are possible.

Arsons pause as investigation continues

As local, county, state and federal authorities seek an arrest related to 23 fires set in Coatesville and its surrounding communities, the area is experiencing its longest arson-free stretch this year.

Help arriving for arson victims

Coatesville-born basketball star Rip Hamilton's Rip City Foundation held an event at the Coatesville Area Senior High School cafeteria Saturday morning to comfort arson victims.

Public meeting to focus on city overtime funding

City Council is slated to hold a public meeting Wednesday to discuss whether the city should dip into its trust fund to cover public safety expenses during the ongoing arson crisis.

Benefactors raise $13K in a day for arson victims

During a Jan. 29 Dollar Day fundraiser, Coatesville Area School District collected the funds for area families who have lost homes to the unsolved arsons.

Police Chief Matthews to resign

Police Chief William Matthews recently told City Council members privately he intends to resign once arsons are no longer plaguing the city.

Sen. Casey tours city's fire damage

U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey viewed the arson destruction here Monday afternoon and offered assistance to city officials.

Arson stretching city's finances

Council intends to meet in a closed-door emergency meeting to discuss plans to tap $900,000 from the city’s trust fund to pay for overtime generated by police and firefighters battling arsons.

Nonstop arson rampage

An intentionally set fire destroyed a mobile home on the outskirts of Coatesville about 11:40 p.m. Friday, leaving a family homeless.

Holes in plaster walls can help fire spread through row homes

The arson that destroyed 15 homes on the 300 block of Coatesville's Fleetwood Street two weeks ago may not have spread so quickly had it been set 70 years earlier.

Arsons just one of city's problems

For any police department in the county, the arson crisis happening here would be overwhelming, but the intentionally set fires afflicting this small, urban community is just where the city’s problems begin.

Coatesville sets curfew to 8 p.m.

City residents under age 18 must now be off the streets by 8 p.m.

'We have to act now'

Despite support from the district attorney and many concerned residents, Police Chief William Matthews does not see the need to implement a citywide curfew in light of a year-long series of arsons plaguing the city and surrounding area.

Town watch meeting draws only 50

The crowd in the Scott Middle School auditorium on Wednesday night seemed sparse.

State grants city $500,000 in aid

Gov. Ed Rendell announced new financial assistance Wednesday to help the City of Coatesville, which has experienced a series of arsons that has strained local resources and frightened local residents.

Fire strikes city yet again, ruled arson

Officials have determined the 21st fire under investigation this year for the Coatesville area to be an arson.

Task force ups bounty for suspected arsonist

Up to $20,000 offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the Coatesville area’s recent string of arsons.

Communities team up to fight arsons

An ongoing arson crisis has Coateville area residents scrambling to protect themselves, their neighbors and their properties.

Four weekend fires follow pattern

Federal authorities announced Saturday that four Chester County homes were intentionally set on fire early Saturday morning.

Victims of blaze vow not to return

Rick Bowman, a victim of the Jan. 24 fire that destroyed 15 row homes on Fleetwood Street, returned home Tuesday afternoon to try to find the family cat.

Car fires credited to arson copycats

Triggered by the ongoing arson crisis happening roughly seven miles west in Coatesville, teens reportedly went into imitation mode and began setting cars on fire in Downingtown early Wednesday morning.

Packed House

More than 400 people showed up to the special meeting the city held at Gordon Elementary School on Wednesday night to address the arson crisis.

Guardian Angels descend on city

They’re coming in from New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia.

Officials: Please stop clothing donations

City officials say they are gratified by the generous outpouring of donations for victims of the Fleetwood Street fire, but would like to put on hold additional clothing donations until the needs of the victims are better understood.

Nervous neighbors invited to speak up

City officials will hold a community meeting tonight to address the arson crisis.

Brazen: Another porch fire reported

Only days after a multi-alarm fire destroyed nearly an entire block of city homes, authorities are investigating another suspicious fire.

Residents must clear debris from porches

City officials are warning all residents they have less than 24 hours to remove all upholstered furniture, pillows, cushions, trash and other debris from their porches and place them on the curb for pickup — or they will be fined.

Arson angst grips city

While more than 170 people crammed into City Hall, officials sprang into action Monday night, approving a flurry of measures aimed at thwarting a rash of arsons.

Residents grumble with frustration

Emotions were running high Monday night outside City Council chambers, with more than 70 people crammed into a lobby during council's meeting.

Officials struggle to stem public fear

Representatives from local, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies said Monday afternoon they are doing everything possible to stop what seems like a never-ending string of city arsons and to prosecute anyone eventually held responsible.

City declares state of Emergency

City officials declared a state of emergency Sunday morning after an intentionally set fire destroyed 15 city homes late Saturday night into Sunday morning, leaving dozens of people homeless, including a city official.

Residents crowd Town Watch meeting seeking answers

More than 100 anxious and angered residents flooded City Hall Sunday afternoon demanding information.

Arson destroys 15 homes

Due to what authorities believe was a despicable criminal act 15 city homes were destroyed late Saturday night into Sunday morning and dozens of people are now homeless, including a city official.

Latest calamity shows it's time for a change in leadership

The string of arsons that has plagued the city of Coatesville has received a significant amount of attention from the media, including this newspaper. But that hasn't done anything to end the fires ...

Caln police officer rescues women from fire

It's a rescue many wish didn't have to be made in the first place. It starts out with women trapped inside their home. The porch is on fire. There's no other exit.

Arson spree continues

Thirteen fires in 23 days. Add that to 15 fires from 2008 and the result is this: The city is facing a life-threatening criminal pattern at an unprecedented scale with an end not yet in sight.

Nine displaced by fires

Three more arsons early Saturday morning displaced a total of nine people and injured two fire personnel.

Endless arsons agitate council

A string of arsons that began troubling the city in 2008 and now extends into a new year is elevating fear and frustration among city officials.

Two more arsons under investigation

Local fire crews and investigators responded to two suspicious fires within minutes of each other early Monday morning.


Interactive map of the fires

Residents crowd special meeting

Coatesville fire chief speaks

Reader Forum

What do you think about the devastating series of arsons in Coatesville and the city's response? Consider this your place to make your opinions known.

Audio slide show

Images from the fire that destroyed 15 houses on Fleetwood Street on late Saturday, Jan. 24 into the early morning of Sunday, Jan 25.

Want to help?

Video from the Associated Press