Authorities on Virginia arsonist: "He's like a ghost"

Someone is waging a war on rural Virginia; their weapon of choice is fire. An arsonist has burned down dozens of buildings since November, and fire strikes in Accomack County about four times a week. The targets are vacant buildings, old abandoned homes, trailers, businesses. In all there have been 71 arsons over 4 months, in every corner of the county.

"My big worry is of course my people first. There's no need to risk someone's life for an abandoned building. But then how far is this going to escalate?" said Philip Kelly, Parksley Volunteer Fire Department chief, which has responded to more than 50 of the fires. "I mean he's doing abandoned now what about occupied buildings. We don't know."

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All of the blazes have been set at night, which makes it that much harder to find the arsonist.

Kelly said when he arrives at the scenes he feels "Amazement. No one's seen him. Like a ghost. He just vanishes. He disappears."

The search for that ghost is massive, with state police having put in more than 22,000 hours. Federal and local agencies are also involved. There are 700 abandoned buildings in the county and officials are using advanced computer technology to try to predict where the arsonist might strike next.

Officials say they can only speculate about motive, but many here think it's someone with a vendetta against the county, the fire department or the police.

Whatever the ghost's reasoning, he's spreading fear all around the county. Residents are afraid he will start using occupied homes.

"Everybody's got lights on. They're, they're scared," said resident Becky Mears.

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Some say it's starting to change how people look at each other in this trusting tight-knit community.

"I don't know if she's setting fires and she don't know if I'm out setting the fires," said resident Steve Trader. "Or if you're out setting the fires. Nobody's got a clue."

For Chip Reid's full report, watch the video in the player above.

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