SHAMOKIN — Police in Northumberland County believe they have the man responsible for torching a building in Shamokin.
James Neidlinger, 21, of Shamokin is charged with setting a fireMonday at a vacant building on Sunbury Street, which spread to other nearby addresses, including an occupied home.
Police in Shamokin would not say if Neidlinger is a suspect in the other two suspicious fires in the city.
Neidlinger did not have anything to say as he walked into a magistrate’s office in Shamokin. Hours earlier, he told police he set a pile of leaves on fire outside four vacant buildings on Sunbury Street in Shamokin. Neidlinger told cops he wants to be a volunteer firefighter. Police say he even offered information on the Sunbury Street fire.
“He saw someone run from the scene, all dressed in black. The description he gave was pretty much his own,” Shamokin Police Chief Edward Griffiths said.
Neidlinger was charged with four counts of arson.
Police said an officer saw a suspicious footprint at the scene of the fire on Sunbury Street. They believe the footprint was a perfect match for the boots Neidlinger was wearing.
Just in the past five days there have been seven fires in and around Shamokin. Three of those happened within the city itself. Police call all three Shamokin fires suspicious. Neidlinger was charged with one, and questioned about them.
“I believe it’s premature to say yes or no. Of course we are going to follow up a little more,” Shamokin Police Officer Raymond Siko.
People in Shamokin are relieved that Neidinger was arrested for setting one of the fires, but they are still nervous and unsettled that another firebug may be out there.
“It’s very, very, very stressing. You don’t know if it’s going to be in your block. There are abandoned houses in my block. You get very very nervous about it,” said one man.
“I’m nervous because I have two very small children and I’m afraid something’s going to happen,” Amanda Derck said.
“Relieved in a way, I hope they can get the other ones involved in this. All these fires going on, it’s just devastating,” Barbara Frazieri.
Firefighters in the city, who are all volunteers, hope the fires stop soon.
“We’re all guys out here just working regular jobs and we have to do this and it really takes a toll on all of us. We don’t get a lot of sleep time, we don’t get a lot of rest and it’s really tough,” said Lt. Bill Milbrand of Shamokin Fire Bureau
Neidlinger is scheduled to appear in court next week in Shamokin.
Officials are asking people who own vacant buildings to make sure they are boarded up and locked. Shamokin police say if you have any information about either of the other suspicious fires to call 570-274-0614.