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‘Copycat’ may be setting fires in Forest Hills, police say

A poster asking for information about a string

A poster asking for information about a string of arsons is displayed in Forest Hills, Queens on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015. Credit: AP / Seth Wenig

Investigators believe three recent trash fires in Forest Hills, Queens, may be the work of a “copycat” arsonist inspired by a series of blazes that damaged homes in the Bukharian Jewish community.

The small fires were set near the local 112th Precinct and outside an area east of Queens Boulevard where seven fires set since Oct. 20 have damaged 13 structures, including a number of homes undergoing renovation, NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said Friday.

Police said they have good video images of the person who set the trash fires and believe he lives in the area. The arsonist has been recognized by several witnesses who have viewed the surveillance images, Boyce said.

“We believe that it is a second person, perhaps even a copycat,” he said.

Speaking with Police Commissioner William Bratton at a street renaming in Queens Village in honor of slain Det. Brian Moore, Boyce said the trash-fire arsonist does not match the physical description of the man being sought in connection with the building arsons.

Boyce noted that investigators are also scrutinizing a cryptic note found near one of the torched houses that may be related to the pattern of arsons. He said the note was found by a woman who brought it to the local firehouse, but he declined to provide specifics about the note’s contents.

Police have ramped up security in the area of Forest Hills known as Cord Meyer, after the developer who decades ago fostered residential projects in the area.

The fires have usually occurred in early- to late-evening hours on Tuesday, Wednesday or Sunday, officials said. The latest fire was reported early in the morning on Dec. 6.

The arson fires have targeted ornate home renovations being done by Bukharian families. Some have criticized the lavish rebuilding projects for clashing with more traditional conservative and Tudor-style buildings — a staple in the area.

Police major case investigators as well as experts from the FDNY are jointly working on the case, Boyce said.

Earlier in the week, city and state officials met with members of the community at the Bukharian Jewish Community Center and revealed that police had placed a number of additional surveillance cameras in the area to cover residential construction sites.

Homeowners with surveillance cameras on their property were asked to reorient the devices to capture more of the local street traffic, said City Council member Karen Koslowitz, who attended the meeting.

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