City fire investigators are combing through unresolved fire cases, looking for connections to a man now accused of setting five fires in three years, fire officials said.
Among the fires Nathan A. Perkins, 20, is accused of setting is the May 2010 blaze that leveled the vacant Whitehouse Flea Market building on State Street.
He also faces charges in four fires that broke out after that, the most recent being this spring on May 24 in a vacant building on Mumford Street. Paperwork filed in court indicates he made admissions to setting the fires; the charges are based on his statements.
All five of the structures Perkins is accused of torching were vacant and no injuries resulted, officials said.
But investigators are now going through their files, reviewing other unsolved fires in the Hamilton Hill, Vale and Central State Street neighborhoods, Fire Chief Michael Della Rocco said Monday.
“We’re going back and examining other fires that have not been resolved to see if there was any possibility that he was involved with those as well,” Della Rocco said. He didn’t say exactly how far back the search would go.
One thing in particular investigators will look for is whether Perkins was at the scene of a fire, watching as firefighters worked. He frequently showed up at fire scenes and sometimes even spoke with firefighters, Della Rocco said.
As Perkins kept showing up at fires, investigators grew more suspicious, said prosecutor John Healy of the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office.
“He was a guy who went to a lot of fire scenes and was well-known to firefighters,” Healy said. He said it was this May’s fire at 499 Mumford St. that really focused attention on Perkins.
With the help of the city’s street surveillance cameras, investigators were ultimately able to refute elements of Perkins’ account of that fire, Healy said.
After gathering the surveillance and other evidence, fire investigators finally confronted Perkins with the inconsistencies last week. He made admissions to the fire investigators, then city police detectives. He was formally charged Thursday evening.
He remained at the Schenectady County Jail on Monday evening, held without bail. His attorney, Sven Paul, could not be reached for comment. His next scheduled court date is Wednesday.
Perkins faces a total of five counts of third-degree arson, a mid-level felony.
Accounts of fires
Officials gave the following account of the blazes:
* The first target was the former flea market, which was destroyed by flames May 17, 2010. But authorities believe there was an earlier, failed arson attempt, on May 3. Perkins is believed to have set both blazes, officials said. His reason: So other buildings could be built there, according to court papers.
He is accused of setting the second fire by mixing diesel fuel with oil, pouring it in a puddle, then pouring a trail of the fluid to another room and lighting it with a stick match, according to papers filed in court.
The second flea market fire needed the efforts of 45 city firefighters to extinguish, and the assistance of six other fire departments. The blaze shut down State Street for hours, and when it was finally extinguished, the city had to demolish what was left at a cost of $60,000.
* A full two years later, Perkins allegedly struck twice in as many days. There were at least two other arsons in the city around the same time, but the others appear to be unrelated — a 15-year-old boy was charged with setting those.
On the evening of May 20, 2012, Perkins is accused of spraying lighter fluid on the rear of 1205 State St. then igniting it with a lighter, according to papers. That building sustained only minor damage.
But the next evening, he allegedly set fire to 28 Kelton Ave., and that building had to be demolished. Officials say Perkins went inside and set fire to papers he found, again with a lighter, then went to the back door and set more paper on fire.
* The fourth blaze came Oct. 4, 2012, at 339 Paige St. In that fire, Perkins is accused of entering through a back door and setting fire to a mattress by spraying it with lighter fluid and lighting it with a book of matches, according to papers. He allegedly was accompanied by an unknown second individual.
* On May 24 this year Perkins is accused of setting the Mumford Street blaze by spraying lighter fluid on the door frame and the porch floor and setting it ablaze using a match.
Perkins is not believed to have had any connections with the properties or their owners, Healy said.
Della Rocco did not detail what Perkins allegedly told authorities, but he did indicate it included information that has not been released publicly.
“There are some things that only the person who set the fire would know about some of the fires,” the chief said, “and he’s provided some of that kind of information.”
He said it may take awhile to search for other fires Perkins may be connected to.
“It’s good to have this arrest, but we also have some unanswered questions still from the past,” Della Rocco said.