updated 12/9/2004 6:47:46 PM ET 2004-12-09T23:47:46

Investigators believe that more than one person was involved in a series of fires at an upscale housing development and that the arsonists tried but failed to burn nearly a dozen other homes in the subdivision outside Washington.

The fires were concentrated along a few streets and cul-de-sacs in the Hunters Brooke development. Twenty-four homes were damaged in all.

The 11 homes where fire failed to catch may yield important information in the hunt for the arsonists. Investigators found open containers similar to buckets containing liquid accelerant in those houses, according to two law enforcement sources who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

There was no wick or other means of igniting the substance, and the devices seemed to be fairly rudimentary, they said.

Police are searching for a blue van that firefighters said they saw leaving the scene as they arrived Monday morning. Operators of nearby gasoline stations also said investigators had asked to review their security tapes and questioned whether anyone had filled large containers there before the fire.

No motive has been established for the crimes, although environmental terrorism, hate crimes and other possibilities have not been ruled out. The Hunters Brooke development had been targeted by environmental lawsuits because it is near wetlands.

Only one of the damaged homes was occupied, and the family has been displaced while the investigation continues.

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