If you saw somebody near PECO’s substation at Rhawn and Ditman streets late on Oct. 24, what you know might be worth a lot of money.
There was a fire there after 11:30 p.m. that day, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is offering $10,000 for information that will help catch the person who set it.
Somebody threw a flammable liquid onto a transformer panel and set it afire, said ATF Special Agent Steven Bartholomew. The fire triggered an alarm that brought a PECO employee and Philadelphia firefighters from Engine 36 on Frankford Avenue to put it out.
The fire damaged equipment but didn’t disrupt power, and nobody was injured, according to the spokesmen for PECO and the police and fire departments.
There is some urgency in catching the culprit or culprits. Not only is the Holmesburg substation a dangerous place because of the high-voltage equipment behind its fences, but the Oct. 24 incident wasn’t the first at the site.
On Oct. 18, somebody left a plastic gas can with some sort of device attached to it at the same site at 4601 Rhawn St.
“We take this extremely seriously,” said PECO spokeswoman Cathy Engel Menendez, who noted that the substation is a very dangerous place that people other than trained workers should not enter.
“They could die,” she said.
Although the fire caused no injuries and power was not interrupted, it had the potential for more severe consequences, Bartholomew said, adding that arson is regarded as a violent crime.
Such occurrences are rare, said Engel Menendez, Bartholomew and Capt. Jeffrey Thompson of the Philadelphia Fire Department.
“I can’t recall many incidents like this,” Thompson said, adding that the fire marshal is investigating the incident along with police, PECO security and ATF agents.
Bartholomew said ATF is the primary federal agency that investigates arson. The neighborhood around the substation is being canvassed for witnesses and evidence is being analyzed in the ATF lab outside Washington, D.C., he said.
Anything anyone saw or heard could aid the investigation, Bartholomew added.
Anyone who has information about either incident at the substation should call the ATF’s 24-hour hotline at 1-888-ATF-FIRE (1-888-283-3473) or send e-mail to ATFTips@atf.gov. ••
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org