Blackened wood remains rested on the ground among supermarket circulars, sooty curbs and in one case, a purple headband and, in another, a melted red flag.
This was all that remained from 14 nuisance fires set in mailboxes Wednesday night in the area of Rhode Island and Rockinghorse drives in Dale City.
Fire marshals are following leads Thursday, developed through witness interviews.
The fires were started in a seemingly random order around 2:30 a.m. when authorities got calls for the Rockinghorse fires. Calls for fires on and near Rhode Island Drive began coming in when people got up for work hours later.
In such a situation, it is common to get most calls in the morning, said Battalion Chief Matt Smolsky, Prince William Department of Fire and Rescue spokesman.
A Rockinghorse Drive resident, who refused to give his name, said he believes neighborhood teenagers started the fires because the targets seem to have been randomly selected. The 31-year-old believes the arsonists walked the neighborhood, selecting mailboxes ad hoc.
Twelve were torched on or near Rhode Island Drive and two were lit on Rockinghorse, Smolsky said.
Fire marshals were at the site of the incidents most of Thursday, taking photos and documenting evidence. They contacted the Postal Inspection Service, a federal law enforcement agency whose charge is to investigate mail-related crime.
In a case like this, Standard Postal Service procedure is to allow local authorities to investigate unless there is evidence of mail tampering or use of an explosive device, said Postal Inspector Robert Northrop. Postal inspectors would also be available to assist local authorities if requested, Northrop said.
Fire marshals did not find burned mail Thursday.
Authorities were not sure whether any accelerants were used to start the fires. Samples will have to be analyzed in a laboratory, Smolsky said.
If local authorities make an arrest, charges may range from vandalism to arson, depending on the circumstances, Smolsky said.
Authorities ask that anyone with information call the fire marshal’s office at (703) 792-6360, or Prince William County Crime Solvers at (703) 670-3700.
Staff writer Daniel Drew can be reached at (703) 878-8065.