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One month, 14 fires, one big arson investigation

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Authorities in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, declare state of emergency
  • Since start of year, 14 suspicious fires have happened in a town near Philadelphia
  • WPVI: Federal investigators are now part of a probe into the possible arsons
  • No residents were injured in a fire Sunday that damaged 15 homes, authorities said
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(CNN) -- The fourteenth suspicious fire in a month's time hit a small community near Philadelphia before dawn Sunday.

A huge fire spread through more than a dozen homes Sunday outside Philadelphia, authorities said.

A huge fire spread through more than a dozen homes Sunday outside Philadelphia, authorities said.

The seven-alarm fire in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, damaged more than a dozen homes and caused nearly $2 million in damage, according to city spokeswoman Kristin Geiger.

No residents were injured, she said.

It took 150 firefighters three hours to bring the blaze under control, and one firefighter broke his ankle, CNN affiliate WPVI reported. Video Watch a town fearful of what's next »

Authorities in the city announced a state of emergency on Sunday. In a statement, Coatesville City Manager Harry Walker said the declaration would allow him to "promulgate whatever special rules and regulations necessary to protect" citizens.

It would also let him request assistance from other municipalities and "enter into contracts, employ temporary personnel, rent equipment, purchase supplies without regard to the normal procedures and formalities prescribed by law," Walker wrote.

Authorities have been imploring residents to remove anything flammable from outside their homes -- including porch furniture and trash.

Standing outside the latest blaze early Sunday, resident Janet Jackson said it had broken out just behind her house.

"I woke up and everything was in flames," she said, adding, "It's really scary. ... I mean we're all afraid to even be in our houses right now."

Francis Dorsheimer said he had just arrived home when his family told him they needed to leave right away because a neighbor's house was on fire.

He ran outside and saw flames "shooting off the roof."

"Must have been like 15-foot flames or higher," he said. "It was just unbelievable. All the smoke in the air -- you could hardly breathe." Video Watch the flames eat away at homes »

Beverly Rivera watched firefighters put out the blaze at the home that she had recently moved out of. She still had possessions inside.

"Whoever's doing this, this is just absolutely ludicrous," she said.

Referring to suggestions that the fires may be the result of gang activity, Rivera said, "If it's a gang, please stop, and find something else to do. Because this is, this is terrible. This is absolutely unreal."

"I never thought Coatesville would be on the map for something like this," she added. "It's just awful. Just awful."

Thirteen previous suspected arsons have occurred since the start of the year in Coatesville. Fifteen suspected arsons happened in 2008 -- including one that killed an 83-year-old woman, Geiger said.

The fires do not appear to follow a clear pattern, she said.

Three suspects were arrested in December, and confessed to some of the fires, said Geiger. The suspects -- two adults and one juvenile -- are still in custody, she said.

A $5,000 reward is being offered for information leading to whomever has been setting the latest fires.

Federal officials have joined the investigation, WPVI reported.

Two homes were first spotted in flames at 11:30 p.m. The blazes spread and burned 15 homes, causing damage estimated at about $120,000 per home or a total of $1.8 million.


City officials expect a huge turnout at a city council meeting Monday when the fires will be discussed.

Coatesville, about 45 miles west of Philadelphia, has about 11,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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