The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


April 29, 2011

Cause of latest Sunbury fire remains undetermined

SUNBURY — If Thursday’s fire is ruled an arson, it will be the 16th in the city in 14 months.

And that possibility has Sunbury Police Chief Steve Mazzeo fuming.

Right now, the cause of the blaze remains undetermined, officials said Friday after firefighters smashed glass and used a chainsaw to destroy a roof and release an inferno from a Vine Street duplex late Thursday night.

“We are taking a stand against this right now,” Mazzeo said of the series of arsons plaguing the city. Of the 15 arsons since February 2010, charges have been filed in two and the other 13 are unsolved.

Mazzeo announced Friday that the city has formed a task force to address the arsons, and that undercover personnel will patrol the streets.

“We are actively investigating leads that we have,” he said.

Thursday’s fire broke out on the back porch of a house at 315 Vine St., and Sunbury Fire Chief Dean Weirick wouldn’t say Friday whether the blaze was set.

“It is being called undetermined,” Weirick said. “It is under investigation, and we are looking at many different things, so that doesn’t mean we won’t change our ruling.”

Police and fire officials are following leads, he said. The fire was reported at about 10:15 p.m.

State police Fire Marshal Norman Fedder, of the Milton barracks, was at the scene on Friday and said the blaze started on the interior wall of the rear porch. It quickly spread through a crawl space, then throughout the house and into the neighboring home at 313 Vine St.

Two weeks ago, Fedder declared Sunbury “a problem area.”

“It is. And it needs to get solved,” Fedder said at that time. “I have some ideas, and I will be meeting with city police to discuss them.”

On April 13 and 14, an arsonist struck the city when a house fire and a garage fire erupted on North Fifth Street.

In August, Tyler William Hendricks, of Sunbury, was arrested in connection with an attempt to start a fire on the roof of the Dollar General Store on Market Street. Hendricks pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. A juvenile also was charged in that case.

Also in August, Bernard Pennycoff, of Sunbury, was charged with arson, but pleaded guilty to risking a catastrophe and was sentenced to time served and probation.

“This is out of control,” resident Amy Stout said Friday. “I have to worry every time I park in my garage that someone is going to try and burn it down.”

Stout leaves her lights and television on in her garage to make it appear that someone is inside, she said.

“I don’t even care about paying for electricity,” Stout said. “It’s cheaper than having to rebuild my garage.”

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