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Arson strikes Pa. city for 20th time this year

Authorities say the suburban Philadelphia city of Coatesville has been hit by yet another arson — the 20th deliberately set blaze of the year.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The arson-plagued Philadelphia suburb of Coatesville was struck by another deliberately set fire, the 20th this year, authorities said.

The 1:30 a.m. Saturday blaze badly damaged two homes in the distressed steel town of about 11,000 residents.

Carmen Lemus, who cried while looking at her charred house, said the town’s arsons had caused “pain” and “heartbreak.” She said she was thankful her family, including three children, had made it out alive.

“Saw a flash of light and woke my fiance up,” she said. “He opened the curtain to the window and seen the fire.”

John Hageman, of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said the fire was determined to be arson, but he declined to provide details on how the blaze was set.

The latest blaze came a day after a 19-year-old man was held for trial on arson and aggravated assault charges in connection with blazes between Jan. 2 and Feb. 3, including a massive fire that severely damaged 15 row homes.

Law enforcement officials said Roger Leon Barlow Jr., of Downingtown, took responsibility for nine fires. But defense attorney Terrence J. Marlowe pointed out that no one had seen his client set the fires and that no physical evidence had been found.

Authorities last month also announced charges against Mark Gilliam, of West Chester, who is accused of setting a fire at a restaurant in nearby Thorndale. An attorney for Gilliam, 19, has said that his client is presumed innocent.

In December, three people were arrested in other arsons, including a December blaze that killed an 83-year-old woman.

Coatesville, about 35 miles west of Philadelphia, has had at least 46 arsons since February 2008. At least 18 other arsons have occurred in nearby communities during the same period.