$10,000 Reward Offered for Arsonist Who Keeps Setting Fires at Center City Apartment Building

Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Explosives are investigate the string of fires, along with the Philadelphia Fire Marshal

The seventh arson in the last month inside a Center City apartment building broke out about midnight Friday on the fifth-floor of the high-rise, and now federal agents, Philadelphia police and the city fire marshal are investigating.

All of the fires at The Sterling, which encompasses the north side of John F. Kennedy Boulevard between 18th and 19th streets, have been started inside or near the trash rooms on the fifth, sixth or seventh floors, residents said.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has announced a $5,000 reward. This reward will be matched for a total reward of $10,000 by the Sterling Apartment Homes management company, Aimco. The Sterling is 30 floors tall.

The ATF believes the arsonist is a resident.

"We do not have any reason to think this is an arsonist from outside the building," ATF spokeswoman Charlene Hennessy said Friday.

The first occurred July 13 when someone lit a shirt on fire in the hallway of the seventh floor. Another small fire was also set that night on the eighth floor, the ATF said. Resident Perry O'Hearn, who lives on the seventh floor, said another resident put out the seventh-floor fire before police arrived, but smoke set off the fire alarm.

The second and third arsons took place the following week, on July 20 and 21. On July 20, two small fires were set in trash rooms on the fifth and seventh floors. A fire on the sixth floor was set the following night.

O'Hearn blamed lax security at all of the buildings entrances and exits and said he believes a lack of cameras in the fire escapes and stairwells are thwarting investigators' efforts to find the firebug.

Another resident, Mayank Patel, who lives on the fifth floor, said the building feels secure.

"Actually, they have security and two people patrolling now," Patel said. "I don't know where they were tonight."

No one has been injured in any of the fires, but eight apartments have been damaged by water from sprinklers, the ATF said.

"We are committed to finding the perpetrators for these acts of arson, and grateful for the high level of cooperation we are receiving from the residents and management team at The Sterling," ATF Special Agent in Charge Sam Rabadi said in a statement. "Acts of arson are dangerous crimes and threaten the community."

Originally, a release from the ATF pointed to six fires, but officials confirmed at a news conference Friday afternoon that the early morning fire was number seven.

The ATF asks both Sterling residents and the public to provide any information they have. 

The ATF tipline is (888)ATF-Fire.

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