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Series of car arsons rattles Allston neighborhood

Posted by Roy Greene  September 30, 2011 01:41 PM

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A spree of car arsons has raised fears in a small neighborhood in Allston.

Eight vehicles have been set ablaze since mid-August, including three torchings last Saturday.

“We were looking at a huge ball of fire, pretty much,” said Christian Dahlstrom, 21, recalling what he saw behind his home at 24 Pratt St. about 7:50 a.m. Saturday.

Someone had ignited the Chevy Malibu owned by his roommate, Jeff Intinarelli.

The torching, the first of the three that morning, followed three similar cases in August and two on Sept. 18, Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald said in a phone interview.

All eight incidents have occurred before 10 a.m., all within a small residential area heavily populated by students. None of the incidents so far has caused any injuries.

MacDonald said that the department was not prepared to say that all eight of the incidents were committed by the same person. But he said the short time frame and close proximity of the three most recent cases suggest a single culprit or group of culprits. He said the motive was still “the big unknown,” and that it is still an open investigation.

Dahlstrom said the flames from Intinarelli’s car soon engulfed his own Honda Civic and seared the right side of roommate Nick Abarny’s Pontiac Grand Am.

“It was stressful,” Dahlstrom said. “We had no idea how big [the flames] could get. It was insane.”

Firefighters arrived and, while battling the blaze, noticed smoke across the street. Another car had been torched at 33 Pratt St. They quickly responded.

“I heard people running past my windows,” said Lee Nason, 24, who lives at 33 Pratt St.. “Then I saw the smoke just billowing into the sky.”

The smoke was coming from the Jeep Grand Cherokee owned by his roommate, Kyle Cartland. Little damage shows on the hull of the SUV, but inside is an ashen wreck of shredded, blackened seats.

The torcher had sprayed lighter fluid into the car through an open window, Nason said firefighters told him.

Nason said that later he and his roommates noticed that one of the plastic lawn chairs from their front porch had been moved next to their back fence – making it an easy climb over to 9 Ashford St., the site of the third torching that morning.

Graham Sternberg, who lives at 9 Ashford St., said he awoke to the sound of an explosion. He soon saw firefighters hopping over the fence toward his roommate Jason Weisbrot’s Chevy Cavalier, which was consumed in flames.

Because the blaze was bowing toward the house, Sternberg said, a firefighter hacked away some layers of siding to prevent the building from catching fire. The house was ultimately unscathed by the flames.

The culprit, it seems, had also tried to strike the car of Sternberg’s girlfriend, which sat nearby Weisbrot’s Cavalier. Sternberg said he found the aftermath of an attempted fire –charred papers taken from the glove compartment – in the back seat.

“It burned a hole in the seat, but it didn’t go any further,” Sternberg said.

Sternberg said he was satisfied with the department’s handling of the situation. “It was clear pretty early on that it was under control,” he said. He said he talked with the firefighters for a while on Saturday. “They seem to be really good guys doing a good job.”

MacDonald urged neighbors to be watchful.

“Hopefully, the public will let us know if they see anything suspicious,” MacDonald said. He admitted that might be tricky in an area heavily populated by students, where tenants change frequently. “You don’t always know who your neighbors are,” he said.

Andrew Doerfler, who is studying journalism at Emerson College, wrote this article as part of a collaboration between Emerson and The Boston Globe.

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