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Subdivision fire probe finds 19 arson blazes

Investigators seek driver of blue van


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Firefighters douse the smoldering wreckage of homes under construction.
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Authorities believe fires in Maryland subdivision were set.

Deputy fire marshal discusses outbreak of subdivision fires.
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INDIAN HEAD, Maryland (CNN) -- Nineteen of 26 homes burned in a Charles County, Maryland, subdivision were the result of arson, authorities said Wednesday.

The remaining seven had fire damage due to spreading flames from another home, said Deputy State Fire Marshal W. Faron Taylor.

Ten of the homes were destroyed.

Investigators found 11 homes where arson was attempted, he said.

"Obviously, we're strongly considering [that] this action had to have been perpetrated by more than one person," said Deputy State Fire Marshal W. Faron Taylor.

A federal law enforcement source close to the case said investigators are looking for the driver of a blue van that was seen in the area when the fires broke out.

The driver is wanted for questioning.

The van was noticed in the area by firefighters who were responding to calls, the source said.

The property owner has said the development will be rebuilt, according to a Charles County commissioner.

The Charles County Commission is offering an $82,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the arson fires.

Taylor wouldn't comment on how the fires were set.

Although no motive has been established, arson investigators led by the Maryland state fire marshal have called for members of a joint terrorism task force to explore the possibility of eco-terrorism.

Taylor said investigators were not focusing on any one possible motive.

"There is a whole host of different motives that are available," he said.

The fires, which caused about $10 million in damage, were reported at 4:30 a.m. Monday.

The residential development -- two adjacent subdivisions about 30 miles southeast of Washington in Charles County -- had been opposed by activists who claimed the construction would damage a wetlands area.

It had been the subject of a lawsuit between environmentalists and the Army Corps of Engineers.

CNN correspondent Brian Todd contributed to this report.


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