Edgartown house fire is subject of arson investigation

A suspicious fire completely destroyed this house on Mockingbird Drive. — Photo courtesy of Edgartown Police Department

Police and fire investigators suspect arson was the cause of an early morning fire that broke out in a vacant house at 16 Mockingbird Drive in the Dodger’s Hole subdivision on Saturday, February 18.

When firefighters first arrived shortly after 4:30 am they found a house with doors and windows open, and flames shooting out of the roof. The house was also bare of any furniture.

Edgartown fire chief Peter Shemeth requested the assistance of the Office of the State Fire Marshall. A team that included a dog trained to detect accelerants arrived that day.

“There appeared to be several places of origin where the fire started,” Chief Shemeth said. “The timing, and an unoccupied house, too many things didn’t add up. So I decided to have the experts come in and get their opinion on it.”

Mr. Shemeth said the house was absolutely bare of contents and there is no indication that there was a single source of ignition, for example an electrical fault or an active fire place. He said the origin is considered suspicious and the case has been turned over to investigators.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal confirmed Monday the fire is an “open and active case.”

State fire investigators also posted flyers on the house and in the neighborhood that read, “Reward, Up to $5,000. If you know who did this, call 1-800-682-9229. Arson Watch reward program.”

Edgartown Police officer Michael Snowden said state fire investigators were unable to find any specific source of ignition on Saturday, but they did later determine the fire is suspicious and “arson is definitely suspected.”

Officer Snowden said determining a cause can prove difficult, particularly when there is extensive damage to the structure. For now, police are following up on any leads, he said.

Michael Torcia of East Longmeadow purchased the house and property, then in foreclosure, for $317,000 from J.P. Morgan Chase Bank on February 12, 2010, according to the assessor’s office. His son Richard Torcia, a contractor, is listed as the owner of the three-bedroom saltbox and adjacent guesthouse.

The father and son are in the business of purchasing and selling houses, Mr. Snowden said.

The house and an adjacent guesthouse were unoccupied when the fire broke out. A neighbor reported the fire to 911. Firefighters received the first page at 4:25 am.

Mr. Snowden described a number of suspicious elements. He said first responders found windows and doors open and a completely vacant house with no evidence that anyone had used the house as a hangout. Neighbors observed vehicles late that night and early that morning driving around.

Mr. Snowden encouraged anyone with information to call the state arson watch number (800-682-9229), or the Edgartown Police tip line at 774-310-1190.