The arrest of a former volunteer firefighter in connection with 16 suspicious fires did not reassure many residents of this New England hamlet that their six months of terror had ended.
"We'll sit up at night 'til we hear more. We'll go on the way we have been," said Donna Hartford, whose family narrowly escaped a fire that destroyed their home in July."This is at least something. They have done something, but I don't feel comfortable."
Her unease was echoed by others in the community of 850, despite the arrest Wednesday of Lance Lalumiere, 23, of Jefferson, a former volunteer firefighter who was charged with setting fire to his brother's house in August.
State Safety Commissioner Richard Flynn, appearing at a news conference in Concord, said the state will seek indictments against Lalumiere charging him with setting 15 other fires.
Five of the town's 21 suspicious or confirmed arson fires since May apparently were set by others, said state Police Lt. Gary Sloper, who added, "We do anticipate further arrests."
Sloper declined to give details, including the number of suspects and whether any acted in concert. He didn't speculate on a motive.
No one has been killed or seriously injured in the fires that have blackened pockets of Jefferson's 52 square miles of scenic meadows, woods and hills. But there have been close calls among the 363 residences.
The fires began with a grass fire on May 5; a barn was the next target, and by late May the first occupied building had been struck.
As the toll of destruction mounted, many families began sleeping in shifts and abandoned vacation plans. Some residents began night patrols. Police feared vigilante violence. One child packed all her precious possessions and mailed them to relatives in other states, afraid her home would be next to burn.
Sloper said Lalumiere, a restaurant dishwasher, had been a suspect for some time.
"It's taken a great deal of time and effort to make sure (we had) more than a reasonable amount of evidence to present," he said.
Lalumiere reported the fire at his brother's home and was there trying to put it out when firefighters arrived, authorities said. The fire damaged the front of the building.
Lalumiere was asked to resign from the fire department after he moved to another town briefly. Jefferson requires volunteer firefighters to live within its borders.
He entered no plea during his arraignment in Lancaster, routine in felony cases in New Hampshire. He was being held in Belknap County jail in lieu of $50,000 cash bail.
But in an interview two days after the fire at his brother's house, Lalumiere told the weekly Coos County Democrat: "All I tried to do was save my brother's house and this is the thanks I get."
"I have nothing to hide," he added.