DATE/TIME: Friday, April 1st, 2005 / 02:15 PM

A 40-year-old former Schenectady man responsible for starting at least 17 fires in the city between February 1999 and August 2001 has been arrested in Florida for setting numerous fires there during the past 2 years.

Benjamin Harris, whose last known Schenectady address was 609 Lansing Street, was arrested by the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office. Harris was arraigned this morning in U.S. District Court in Fort Pierce, Florida on federal arson charges in connection with the Florida fires. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has also filed a federal arson complaint against Harris in U.S. District Court in Albany charging him with setting a May 2001 Cutler Street fire.

Fire investigators from the Schenectady Police and Fire Departments went to Florida last week and interviewed Harris. Based on the results of that interview and their investigation, it was determined that Harris started numerous fires in the city. These fires resulted in 17 houses, 6 garages and 6 vehicles being damaged or destroyed, with financial losses estimated to be nearly 1 million dollars. In addition, firefighters were injured in some of the fires.

Harris left Schenectady in September 2001 and moved to South Carolina. He is suspected of committing several arsons there as well.

Investigators are still trying to determine if Harris committed several other arsons that occurred in the city between 1999-2001. Harris also set fires at 2 other Schenectady County locations in May 2001: to a boat that was parked in a yard in Glenville, and while camping at Frosty Acres campground in Mariaville, Harris started a fire inside a camper being stored there and a garbage can fire inside a bathroom.

The fire investigations were conducted by Police Sergeant Arthur Zampella and Detective Jack Sims, Assistant Fire Chief Michael Della Rocco, and retired Deputy Fire Chiefs Patrick Dugan and Dominick Rosato, with assistance from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control, the Florida State Fire Marshals Office, and the Mid-Atlantic Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network.

Chronology of Benjamin Harris Fires

February 24, 1999 @ 2:50 a.m.

8 Douglas Road (home of Harris’ then mother-in-law)
* Car set on fire in detached garage
* A firefighter sustained minor injury

April 6, 2001 @ 10:50 p.m.

901 Bridge Street
* Trash next to house set on fire

April 10, 2001 @ 1:50 p.m.

609 Lansing Street
* Bags of clothing in hallway set on fire

April 21, 2001 @ 2:40 a.m.

1302 Lower Broadway
* Curtains in a common room set on fire

April 27, 2001 @ 4:30 p.m.

601 Lansing Street
* Trash next to house set on fire

April 30, 2001 @ 2:10 a.m.

880-882 Yorkston Street
* Garbage can next to detached garage set on fire – garage & a car destroyed
* A firefighter sustained minor injury

May 2, 2001 @ 3:50 a.m.

1032-1034 Cutler Street
* Fire set in rear hallway
* Houses on each side (1028-1030 and 1036-1038) also damaged

May 7, 2001 @ 3:35 a.m.

901 Bridge Street
* Detached garage set on fire – garage & vehicle damaged

May 8, 2001 @ 2:35 a.m.

655 Crane Street
* Detached garage set on fire – garage & 2 vehicles destroyed
* House also damaged
* Detached garages at neighboring 659 Crane & 646 Lansing also damaged

May 17, 2001 @ 11:55 p.m.

1302 Lower Broadway
* Fire set inside a boarding room

June 2, 2001 @ 7:20 p.m.

941 Crane Street
* Vehicle set on fire

June 10, 2001 @ 2:50 a.m.

801 Bridge Street
* Fire set on rear porch
* Neighboring 813 Bridge also damaged

June 11, 2001 @ 10 a.m.

23 Catherine Street
* Fire set in crawl space

June 29, 2001 @ 12:30 a.m.

1037 Bridge Street
* Fire set in a bedroom

July 2, 2001 @ 9 a.m.

551 Summit Avenue
* Fire set on rear porch

July 29, 2001 @ 2:30 a.m.

646 Lansing Street
* Fire set in laundry area

August 16, 2001 @ 1:15 a.m.

1118 Crane Street

* Trash next to house set on fire