The DC Serial Arsonist

In 2003 the DC region was terrorized by one of the most notorious arsonists in U.S. history. This is the story of the arson investigators tasked with finding the elusive fire setter.


Episode 1: The Firesetter

On the heels of 9/11, and the deadly sniper shootings, a firesetter in the DC region is terrorizing neighborhoods in the middle of the night. A chance encounter leads to the realization that this is the work of a serial arsonist.

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Episode 2: The Eye Witnesses

As fires continue, the investigation hinges on the recall of three eyewitnesses, all teenagers. The task force comes up with some creative ways to track down the arsonist who is purchasing materials for his incendiary devices at local convenience stores.

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Episode 3: The Media Leaks

To complicate the investigation further, someone close to the task force is leaking classified details of the case to the local media. It’s a delicate balance to keep the public informed while not inciting copycat firesetters and jeopardizing the investigation.

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Episode 4: The DNA Profile

A DNA profile is consistently found at some of the fire scenes but doesn’t match up with a name. More physical evidence leads the task force to loop in NCIS who is dealing with their own arson investigation.

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Episode 5: The Arrest

The serial arsonist is finally named and confirmed through DNA lab work. The task force has to make an arrest, but media leaks once again throw a wrench into the timeline.

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Episode 6: The Serial Arsonist

The task force learns that the arsonist has been lighting fires in the DC area since the early 1980s. For the first time, we reveal the list of fires he admitted to ATF as part of a proffer agreement.

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Episode 7: The Catastrophic Damage

The terror the arsonist perpetuated for decades finally came to an end thanks to the hard work of the ATF task force. In letters to our producer, the serial arsonist admits to fetishes and desires that caused him to light fires.

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DC Serial Arsonist Fires.

This map is the most inclusive collection to date of the fires admitted to by the DC Serial Arsonist. The fires in blue are the incidents confessed to in the plea. Orange were from the debriefings and ride alongs. Red are from Jonathan Riffe’s book. And the fire in green is an additional incident from Bob Luckett’s book.

If you click on the fire icons, you can learn more details about each incident.

About ATF

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is the federal agency primarily responsible for administering and enforcing federal laws pertaining to arson and explosives. More information about ATF and their mission to investigate arson can be found at

About IAAI

The International Association of Arson Investigators® (IAAI®) is an international professional association of more than 10,000 fire investigation professionals, united by a strong commitment to suppress the crime of arson through professional fire investigation.

About Arson

ARSON is the brainchild of Scott Stephens who wanted to share the importance of fire investigation with a wide audience. He connected with producer Kara McGuirk-Allison in the Fall of 2019, and together they created the concept of Arson.

Kara McGuirk-Allison has over 25 years of journalism experience. She produced news programs for NPR including Justice Talking, and helped create and launch the podcast Hidden Brain. Kara created several podcasts as Executive Producer of Platform Media.


Scott Stephens, Executive Director for the International Association of Arson Investigators.



Washington City Paper Letters from an Arsonist
Bob Luckett’s Book
Jonathan Riffe’s Book
Ed Nordskarg’s Books