GORHAM – State and local investigators continue to probe a series of six fires that have put Gorham residents on edge. The fires include five the State Fire Marshal’s Office has ruled as arson and another as suspicious.

And according to a university psychologist and professor, it’s difficult to predict what an arsonist would do next.

“They’re (arsonists) unpredictable, with regard to when one might strike again,” said Dr. Bill Thornton, a professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Southern Maine.

Thornton, who has not consulted with police on the investigation, has taught a course called Psychology and the Law and has researched the topic for class lecture material. Thornton studies social behavior and the associated or underlying personality variables that may influence why people do what they do, he said.

Until nabbed, it’s a guessing game when or what the next target for an arsonist might be.

“If I had to place a bet – yes or no – I’d go with yes,” Thornton said.

The arsonist “is able to maintain or enhance their self-esteem and feels worthy in a neurotic way,” Thornton said, and “they need to experience it again.”

Thornton said a typical arsonist profile is a white man with a median age of 27 – “socially inadequate, has difficulty with relationships, not doing well socially, professionally or financially. Probably underemployed. He’s not extremely intelligent, and doesn’t perform well academically,” he said.

“There is also a small percentage that also have a sexual inadequacy,” Thornton said. “They can’t spark anywhere else.”

Recent arsons have struck Gorham on varying days of the week beginning March 27. The first was on a Tuesday; the second on a Saturday; two on Sundays – one on Palm Sunday followed by one on Easter; and two latest ones on Wednesdays. The fires include: March 27, a vacant home at 70 Spiller Road; March 31, SnoGoers clubhouse, 209 Mighty St.; April 1, a vacant house on Great Falls Road; April 8, a two-car garage at 215 Buck St.; April 11, a vacant house at 56 Dingley Spring Road; and April 18, a vacant property on Sebago Lake Road.

All except the two-car garage, which is still deemed suspicious, have been ruled as arson. Each of the fires has been in unoccupied buildings.

“He’s concerned enough not to harm people,” Thornton said.

The grouping of four fires and two others in the same general area, Thornton said, indicates “a comfort zone” for an arsonist.

Thornton said an arsonist could be someone familiar with the area, like a delivery person or handyman.

“He knows back roads,” Thornton said, and how to get away without being detected.

But arson has spread alarm through the town.

“They can bring a community to its knees,” Thornton said, “and this is empowering. ‘Look what I can do.’”

Authorities do not have any suspects, and continue to ask residents for help.

“Be vigilant and report suspicious activity,” Gorham Detective Sgt. Dana Thompson reemphasized this week. But, “avoid confrontations, be a good witness from a safe distance,” Thompson added.

“We’re getting a lot of calls of suspicious vehicles,” Daniel Young Sr., an investigator for the Southern Division of the State Fire Marshal’s Office, said last week.

Steve McCausland, spokesman for Maine Public Safety Department, said Tuesday the Fire Marshal’s Office hasn’t determined whether one person is responsible for all the fires.

“Investigators are working hard,” McCausland said.

Investigators, who have not released details of the arsons, this week wrapped up work at the scenes and are now focusing on interviews. Gorham Police Chief Ronald Shepard on Wednesday declined to reveal who would be interviewed.

Gorham firefighters also are being asked to answer a series of questions related to the ongoing arson investigation. Deputy Fire Chief Kenny Fickett said the Fire Marshal’s Office has asked each member of the department to fill out the questionnaire.

“It’s a questionnaire we use on every fire,” Sgt. Joel Davis of the Fire Marshal’s Office, said Monday, and added it asks firefighters what they saw.

Besides destruction of property, the fires are hitting wallets of Gorham taxpayers. On Friday, Fickett said call company wages have doubled since the arsons began. He said call company pay in the past two weeks had risen from well under $8,000 to $16,000.

Gorham has mutual aid agreements with its neighboring communities and shares fire stations with Scarborough, Standish and Windham.

Responding to the suspicious fires is also costing taxpayers in other towns. Standish Fire Chief Brent Libby said his department has responded to all six fires.

“I’ve seen an increase in payroll,” Libby said.

For each of the six calls, Libby pegs costs at between $1,000 and $2,000, including expenses for equipment, fuel and manpower.

“Gorham would be there to help us,” Libby said.

Gorham police Detective Sgt. Dana Thompson, left, and state fire investigator Chris Stanford meet at what’s left of a vacant house on Great Falls Road, hit by arson April 1. Investigators have not named any suspects in the string of fires that began March 27.
damage at the scene of the fire  
Damage at the scene of the fire on Great Falls Road in Gorham on April 1 that was ruled arson.  

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