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In late December of last year, I wrote a cover story questioning whether the devastating Eastern Market fire might in fact have been caused by arson. The piece used several anonymous fire fighters, documents, and memos to make the case. Not only had Eastern Market been caused by arson, there may be another serial arsonist roaming Cap. Hill.
Of course, I confronted the Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin. He got real hostile:
“When asked about the surveillance operation, Rubin replied: “May I ask who told you?” After this reporter refused to reveal his sources, the chief threatened him, saying: “I’m going to report you to the federal authorities [if you publish that].”
I am still waiting to hear from those federal authorities. This week two firefighters went on the record for a WJLA story. Both claim that the Eastern Market fire was arson.
Firefighters Gerald Pennington and Greg Bowyer have come forward. Both also claim they’ve been retaliated against as a result of their belief that the Eastern Market fire was the product of foul play.
“While Fire Chief Dennis Rubin announced the likely cause of the Eastern Market fire was ‘electrical,’ Pennington and Bowyer believe the blaze began with a deliberately set fire in a nearby dumpster. ‘And we were ordered to keep this information quiet, which we did,’ said Bowyer.
As two of the most experienced arson investigators, Pennington and Bowyer were also on a covert team searching for a person responsible for a rash of dumpster fires. Five months later, 28-year-old Joel Ramos emerged as a suspect. He was picked up by police on a malicious burning charge for setting a fire in an alley near Eastern Market. ‘It’s pretty troubling. It’s pretty troubling because it’s been going on for so long,’ said Pennington.
Sources said the arrest wasn’t publicized because arson didn’t fit with the department’s original theory. According to police records, Ramos never stood trial because a couple of months later, his body washed ashore in King George County, Va. After his death, which investigators deemed natural, the dumpster fires stopped.
While crews continue to rebuild Eastern Market, Chief Rubin won’t discuss the disaster that nearly toppled a national landmark. Instead, when probed, he referred to the official report which lists the cause of the fire as ‘undetermined.’
While Chief Rubin also won’t discuss why Pennington and Bowyer are now turning hydrants, one of his top deputies referred to the two investigators as ‘internal terrorists.'”
I wonder what’s going to happen to Pennington and Bowyer. They now check fire hydrants. They used to investigate arsons. Is anyone going to protect these whistleblowers? Is anyone going to demand that the Eastern Market fire be investigated again?
*photo of the Eastern Market fire by Arthur Delaney.