FOREST HILLS — The NYPD is ramping up its effort to find the firebug ninja who has sparked seven blazes in the neighborhood since October, the most recent on Sunday morning when he torched a home for a second time.
Officers from the department’s elite Strategic Response Group and the Arson and Explosion squad as well as Queens detectives and FDNY fire marshals are now working to crack the case that has puzzled investigators for nearly two months.
“I’m very, very concerned about that,” NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said. “We’ve been fortunate with the weather that if we had had significant winds, we might’ve had more of a conflagration than we’ve had in the fires.”
Police released a photo after Sunday’s inferno of a bespectacled man on a motorcycle who they initially labeled a person of interest, but he was cleared of any wrongdoing after being quizzed by investigators, the NYPD said.
Detectives also found a fingerprint at the scene of a storage facility fire, but that turned out to belong to a maintenance worker.
NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said the fact the suspect isn’t using an accelerant makes this case unusual.
“He’s using materials at the scene,” Boyce said. “We have recovered some physical evidence, as you might expect, nothing that would link a single person to the issue.”
The pattern began Oct. 20 at 70-35 113th St., near 71st Avenue, when he burned a vacant home. He then struck Nov. 8 at 68-60 112th St. and two days later lit 108-13 67th Road ablaze. He finished his work for the month by igniting a fire on Nov. 15 at 112-35 69th Road and then again on Nov. 17 at 108-43 66th Ave., police said.
His most recent work came about 12:20 a.m. Sunday at the 69th Road address, which is unusual because he typically strikes between 6:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., the NYPD said.
All of the incidents have taken place at homes owned by Bukharian Jews, but police do not believe anti-Semitism is a motive.
“We’re not looking at this as a terrorist-related incident. We’re not looking at this as a hate crime incident either,” Bratton said. “Detectives are focused on trying to understand what the cause of this is or what the motive is.”
Locals said they were frustrated by the NYPD's refusal to consider the serial arson a hate crime.
"Every time, it's a Bukharian building under construction," said Rafael Nektalov, the editor of the Bukharian Times. "What do they need to do? Who can have another opinion?"
Police have released an image of a man wearing a gray hoodie, but have yet to identify him.
NYPD brass, elected officials and community members will meet Tuesday to discuss the crime spree.
“We believe that it’s someone from the area because that person disappears quickly into the neighborhood as soon as we track after the fire,” Boyce said.