PDT Staff Writer
A Portsmouth man, Larry Stevenson, age 60, of 1824 High St. — who reportedly spent Friday and Saturday throwing Molotov cocktails over onto a house on High Street in Portsmouth — has been arrested for aggravated arson.
Assistant Chief Sean Gee said it started Friday night when two garages were burned, and three houses suffered damage.
“On Saturday they set another house at 1830 High St. on fire,” Gee said. “Somebody kept throwing Molotov cocktails between the 1830 house and the structure just to the south of it. This went on six times. We did make an arrest, but I don’t know how he ties in with the actual fire Friday. He’s one door down from where the garages burned.”
Members of the department apparently remained near the scene after the last incident, and approximately a half-hour later they reportedly caught the man in the process of throwing the Molotov cocktail over the fence.
“We decided that we needed to put the property under surveillance, because we had been there at that point five or six times,” Portsmouth Fire Chief Bill Raison said. “Someone’s going to get hurt responding to these things or the fire is going to get out of control and jeopardize someone in the neighborhood, or it’s going to jeopardize our guys.”
A Molotov cocktail is a breakable glass bottle containing a flammable substance such as gasoline or a napalm-like mixture, with some motor oil added, and usually a source of ignition such as a burning cloth wick held in place by the bottle’s stopper. The wick is usually soaked in alcohol or kerosene, rather than gasoline. In action, the wick is lit and the bottle hurled at a target such as a vehicle or fortification. When the bottle smashes on impact, the ensuing cloud of gasoline droplets and vapor ignites, causing an immediate fireball followed by a raging fire as the remainder of the fuel is consumed.
“The neighbors were really concerned because they had pretty much pinpointed him, and they wanted us to arrest him,” Gee said. “But we couldn’t just arrest him. We had to have proof, but we finally caught him in the act.”
A witness at the scene said cheers went up from neighbors when the suspect was placed in a cruiser.
“The people were pretty upset. They weren’t saying directly who did it. They were eluding to who they thought did it. And at that point we had the same suspicion that the people in the neighborhood were having. And I felt we had to take the course of action that we did and it paid off, and I’m glad it did because it stopped,” Raison said. “The whole neighborhood was applauding.”
Portsmouth Police Detective Sgt. Jim Charles said the police did not handle the arrest, but the State Fire Marshal’s office used their police powers to make that arrest. The State Fire Marshal’s Office said the Portsmouth Police made the arrest, so neither agency has any information.
Raison said being called to that location six times increased the danger to the firefighters with each trip.
“Statistically they say about 25 percent of injuries and fatalities for firefighters occur traveling to or returning from a scene,” Raison said. “You flip on the lights and sirens, you are taking a risk - you are putting the public at risk, because now you have a 50,000 pound fire truck responding in an emergency manner through town, and that’s not without risk to the public as well. We have driver training classes and we talk all the time about having due regard to the traffic around us, and just because you have your lights and sirens on doesn’t mean you’ve got a license to do whatever you want to do out on the road. Still, with all of that in mind, it is still a risk.”
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.