Hundreds gather at Greenwood arson meeting



Posted on November 10, 2009 at 11:36 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 11 at 8:14 AM

SEATTLE - The hunt for an arsonist targeting Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood intensifies as people who live in the area fight back by joining together.

Hundreds of Greenwood business owners and residents packed a community meeting at the Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church Tuesday night, looking for answers and better ways to protect their business.

The Seattle Police Department confirmed 14 fires are now connected to the Greenwood arsonist, most of them small businesses. Investigators could not talk about the evidence obtained so far, but they say the arsonist is using combustible material found near each scene. So the mayor's office is now coordinating extra dumpster pickups.

A new twist has also emerged. The owner of the restaurant Olive You reported that after the arsonist targeted his restaurant Monday morning, he received a threatening phone call.

"He just made this remark saying that I should watch my back and that my life is in danger," said Timur Leno, Olive You restaurant owner.

Police say they haven't heard about other victims receiving similar calls and are looking further into this threat. They have stepped up arson patrols in both marked and unmarked vehicles, but they're also asking people in Greenwood to be vigilant.

"The [arsonists] have to go out, they have to be walking in the neighborhood," said Chief Paul McDonough, of Seattle Police. "You know what is normal for your neighborhood."

Meanwhile, people who live in the area are fighting back by joining together. Some business owners are resorting to sleeping at their stores.

"We are considering taking turns staying overnight in our own business, just trying to protect ourselves," said Tim Nolan of the Phinney Ridge Cabinet Company.

"I can't tell you not to do it, I understand you want to protect your buildings. I get it. But I really am concerned about your safety," said Seattle Fire Marshall John Nelson.

As police increase their patrols, residents asked if they could help.

"What is your view of citizen patrols at night?" one woman asked.

"What I would discourage is making contact with individuals you may come across with all respect that's why we're here," said Chief McDonough.

A $25,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of the arsonist. To report information or suspicious activity call 800-55-ARSON.

A spokesperson for the mayor's office said they would try to coordinate extra trash pickups for dumpsters that are overflowing with combustible waste and for utility crews to replace streetlights that have burned out. The phone number to report such problems is (206) 684-CITY.