Rhode Island’s Worst Disaster Since the Hurricane
The worst forest fire that Rhode Island has yet experienced swept over better than fifty square miles of brush and woodland in the southwestern part of the state. Starting late in the afternoon of May 1, it was finally brought under control four days later.
The fire, which was of an incendiary nature, was burning in as many as fifteen different places at once.
It broke out in several places around Coventry and rose to such a height that by the morning of the next day there were about 1,000 men fighting the fire and an appeal was made by the Governor for all available men to volunteer their services. At noon the Governor had declared martial law for the area and the State Guard was posted on all roads leading into the area. There were close to 3.000 engaged in the battle, including a large detachment of soldiers from Fort Devens and a contingent of sailors from the Quonset Naval Air Station. Firemen and apparatus from Westerly, Warwick, Bristol, Norwood, Coventry, Greene, North Providence, East Providence, Pawtucket, Cranston and Providence were helping to combat the blaze.
In the path of the flames were many farms, the buildings on which were destroyed when fire fighters were unable to reach them because of the flames. Also in the area was about 1,500,000 board feet of lumber, salvage lumber from the hurricane in 1938. When the flames were finally conquered $3,000,000 worth of damage had been done. The fire had destroyed well over a hundred buildings and had nearly consumed the Town of Greene.
The arsonist, who set the fire, was finally apprehended by Connecticut and Rhode Island State Police. He was Edward LaCasse, 30, of Plainfield, Conn., a volunteer fireman. He was employed as a section gang foreman by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.
The police were able to catch him only because of the information given them by a young married couple that were riding along a back road in Moosup, Conn. A rather peculiar chain of events led to his arrest. The couple were driving along the road when they saw smoke in the woods ahead. They investigated and saw a stocky, swarthy man standing beside a blue sedan. They drove to the home of Chief Irving Barber of the Moosup Volunteer Fire Department and gave him the registration number and description of the man. Chief Barber called the Connecticut State Police and asked them to meet him at the fire. The Chief then hurried off to the fire house. When he arrived, the blue sedan and a man answering the description were there. The man volunteered to go with the truck to the fire. When he arrived at the fire, he stood around and seemed interested, but didn’t do any work. The State Police picked him up and took him to the barracks for questioning. He finally confessed to the crime and also to eight other fires that occurred in buildings and woodlands in the last two years. He faces a minimum of twenty years each in Connecticut and when they are through with him, Rhode Island wants him for four counts.