RIO RANCHO, N.M. (KRQE) - Sandoval County investigators are looking for an arsonist they believe started a string of fires recently near Rio Rancho may who may be responsible for years of suspicious fires in the same area.
The Sandoval County Sheriff's Office has now taken over investigation of the five fires sparked on the morning of May 3 burning two vacant mobile homes and three piles of trash. While no other similar fires have flared since, investigators believe whoever is behind them has a history in the area.
"These cases are very similar to those that we've seen in the past," said Lt. Keith Elder, a spokesman for the sheriff's office. "We're looking at the past two or three years."
Investigators say the similar fires have all been small and west of Rio Rancho. However, they say when the arsonist set the five fires in one morning earlier this month that was one of the busiest sprees yet.
"The suspect seems to be very active for a while, then becomes inactive for a period of time," Elder said.
There's still no suspect or profile for the firebug, but investigators say the arsonist has a preferred weapon. Evidence recovered at the scene points to that.
"From those burned objects, they were taken to the state lab for processing, and that's how they determined gasoline was used as an accelerant," Elder said.
Sandoval County Fire Chief James Maxon told KRQE News 13 on Tuesday that fire investigators also recovered the neck of a glass bottle at one of the mobile homes. Maxon says it's possible that the bottle may have been a Molotov cocktail.
As the sheriff's office continues its investigation into a suspect, they have footprints, tire-tracks, and they're looking for either a gray SUV or truck.
"It's one vehicle. We don't know for sure what vehicle that is," said Lt. Elder.
While information on any suspect remains scarce, investigators say they need neighbors on alert.
"If there's anyone that suspects vehicles or personal descriptions, were welcome to those descriptions to come in, those leads to come in, and we'll follow up on those leads," Elder said.
Sandoval County firefighters typically deal with about 10 to 12 suspicious fires each year in that remote area west of Rio Rancho. Firefighters say it's usually abandoned homes, junked cars and trash piles going up in flames.
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