Arsons: Tough on Victims, Tough to Solve

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WEST PITTSTON -- Winter tends to be a busy time for fires, but in the past several months, a number of those fires in our area were intentionally set. In Luzerne County alone, arsons came through Mocanaqua, Shickshinny, Duryea, and West Pittston. So why do they keep happening, and why do so many of them go unsolved?

It was just about a year after the flood of 2011 when Joe Castellino lost his home again. Back in 2011, it was flood water. This time, it was fire.

"Everything was just great. It was perfect, and then, boom. This happens," said Joe Castellino.

It was November 18, just around dinner time, when Joe's home on Exeter Avenue in West Pittston went up in flames. He said he grabbed his wife, Jo Ann, and ran without time to think.

"Fire's the worst thing. You can understand why people would jump out of multi-story building to get away from it. It's the scariest thing in the world. You never forget it," said Castellino.

But more shocking than the flames or the loss of his two cats and dog was learning that the fire had been set.

"Who would want to do this to us and why? We still look over our shoulder now because we have no idea," said Castellino.

State fire marshal Ron Jarocha investigated the arson. One that three months later, still has no suspects.

"A lot of the times, it's done by a single person and with no witnesses, so unless that person talks to somebody, it makes it a lot harder for us," said Castellino.

Jarocha said it was burn patterns along the walls that helped him determine where the fire started.

Sometimes, fires destroy evidence. That's why Jarocha said some of the arsons he investigates go unsolved.

Jarocha's been a state fire marshal for 20 years in Luzerne, Wyoming, Sullivan and Bradford Counties. He said arsons take time to identify.

"When I make my rule at the end of the day, it has to be 100%, so I have to examine everything," said Jarocha.

Sometimes that means testing out different scenarios to make sure he's got it right.

"We'll build a room. We'll put furniture in there, then set it on fire the way we think the fire started," said Jarocha.

The what, when, where and how are the easier parts, but the who and why are often left undetermined. Jarocha said some set fires for excitement, revenge, or profit. Some do it to be the hero and put it out.

None of these reasons sit well with Jo Ann Castellino who still can't get last November's fire in West Pittston out of her mind.

"Someone did it. Please, let us know. I don't know what to do with it. I don't know. I have nightmares at night. I think about it during the day," said Jo Ann Castellino.

The house next door was also burned.

"Every single window failed because of the fire."

Neighbor Sheri Slusser's daughter's room was on the fiery side of the home.

"Here we are, almost three months later, and it was just six days ago today that my daughter started sleeping in her room again. So we've been dealing with a lot with her," said neighbor Sheri Slusser.

Now, the Castellinos rent a home in Wyoming, but they still stop by their old house, digging through debris, hoping to find something to save, but knowing they'll never permanently return.

"As far as living here again, never. I mean after the flood, and then a year later, the fire. What's next? The locusts? No, we'll just never feel right in this place," said Joe Castellino.