State fire investigators arrested a 65-year-old Standish woman late Friday, charged her with three arsons and alleged she is a suspect in 15 other fires in Cumberland and York counties.

Carol Field was being held at the Cumberland County Jail on $100,000 bail Saturday. She is expected to make an initial court appearance this week.

The Maine Department of Public Safety said Field was charged with setting:

a fire on July 26 that heavily damaged the Raymond Hill Baptist Church;

a Sept. 16 fire at a vacant house on Central Avenue in Limerick;

and a fire in September 2010 outside Plummer’s Hardware Store in Waterboro.

According to spokesman Steve McCausland, a team of fire marshal investigators, agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Maine Forest Service rangers and deputies from York and Cumberland counties investigated the fires over the summer. Field became a suspect early last month after a witness saw a car leaving the scene of a fire and was able to give investigators a partial license plate number.

McCausland said Field has a criminal history, but he could provide no details.

One of the worst fires was at the church, which sustained about $200,000 worth of damage.

Deb Baker, a member of the congregation of the seasonal church — it’s only open for four to six weeks in the summer and for occasional weddings and funerals — said an official with the state Fire Marshal’s Office called her Saturday morning to say an arrest had been made.

The suspect “is not anyone that the congregation is aware of,” Baker said. “We don’t know anything regarding the individual.”

Baker noted that repairs on the church were just getting started last week. She said the church was insured, a Raymond resident donated an organ to replace one that was destroyed by the fire, and about $700 had been donated at a Key Bank branch in Raymond.

Baker lives about a half mile from the church and said she felt “so relieved and feeling much safer” with an arrest in the case.

“A 65-year-old woman. Who would have expected?” Baker said.

Eric W. Hickey, a criminologist in California, said older women are among those least likely to commit arson.

“Most serial arsonists are male. In fact, almost all of them are male,” said Hickey, who has written four books on serial criminals.

Nine out of 10 arsonists are male and the majority of them are young, Hickey said. Among women arsonists, almost all are young, he said.

“It would be unusual for her, at her age, to act out, to just start setting fires,” he said. “It’s pretty unusual for women to do it and then, for an elderly woman to do it.”

Hickey said, in fact, that he can’t remember a case of a woman in her 60s being charged with serial arson.

Investigators said Field is either charged with or suspected of setting fires at mostly vacant buildings or in wooded areas, and Hickey said that, too, would be unusual, if true. Most arsonists, he said, either set fire to buildings or set fires in the woods, but not many set fire to both.

But, he said, if she’s guilty, “she’s not targeting people, she’s targeting buildings and she’s being selective.”

Hickey said investigators will likely look for some sort of trigger that might explain why Field started setting fires, as she is alleged to have done.

Hickey said he would look for problems such as a relationship or marriage that fell apart or whether she lost her home to foreclosure or unpaid taxes. He noted that money doesn’t appear to be a motive because Field is not alleged to have set fire to her own home or property to collect insurance money.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]