EASTERN SHORE, Va. (WAVY) - Virginia State Police held a news conference Friday afternoon to update the public on the string of arson cases on the Eastern Shore.
VSP Public Relations Director Corinne N. Geller announced there have been 36 arsons since mid-November, including one Thursday night. This total does not include two brush fires during that time frame. State Police say this isn't the first time the county has had to deal with a serial arsonist.
"Although Accomac County has had an arsonist in the past. We've never had an arsonist destroy so many structures in such a short period of time that I'm aware of," said First Sergeant J.P.. Koushel.
Investigators believe the suspect is a resident of Accomack County and are unsure if there is more than one suspect. While investigators believe most cases are the work of the same arsonist, they are not ruling out the possibility that some may be the work of a copycat.
"Copycat crimes will not be tolerated and will be investigated and we will be separating which ones were committed by the serial arsonists and which ones have not," said Koushel.
Authorities say the suspect has kept the same pattern since the first blaze in November, setting fire to abandoned buildings in early morning or late night hours. Over time the arsonist has become more brazen going from chicken coops to big homes. Police say the fires are putting a strain on volunteer fire departments.
"It's been very difficult for our fireman they are working more fires than a Detroit fireman would work. It's a tremendous amount of fires," said Koushel.
Investigators say catching the arsonist won't be an overnight job. They have 455 square miles of Accomack County and as many as 800 abandoned structures, the arsonists' prime targets.
Investigators say the arsonist is creating a climate of fear in the County.
No one has been injured in the fires and police are offering an award of up to $5,000 for information that may lead to an arrest.
A company has been hired to complete the repairs to the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge on the Outer Banks, but how long those repairs will take remains unknown.
Drivers traveling between Hatteras Island and the mainland were forced to use an emergency ferry Wednesday, following the sudden closure of the Bonner Bridge Tuesday.
State officials say construction on a new Bonner Bridge has been delayed for years because of a legal battle with an environmental group.