DARTMOUTH — Investigators believe that someone intentionally set fire to the Hawthorne Country Club building.
The Massachusetts Fire Marshal had been investigating after a fire destroyed the property’s clubhouse on May 7.
“Investigators believe this fire was intentionally set,” said Department of Fire Services Spokesperson Jake Wark in an email to The Light on Thursday.
Wark added that it’s their policy not to release details on how suspicious fires begin, so he wasn’t able to provide more information about the country club fire. “This is to ensure that statements from witnesses and others aren’t influenced by facts or evidence they obtained from media coverage,” he said.
The agency is still seeking tips from witnesses. They can contact investigators directly at 978-567-3310 or through the Arson Watch Reward Program’s tip line, which offers rewards of up to $5,000 for information that helps detect or prevent arson crimes, at 1-800-682-9229.
No criminal charges have been brought as of Thursday afternoon, Wark said.
The country club at 970 Tucker Road in Dartmouth had been vacant since it closed in 2016. Recently, the family of fishing mogul Carlos Rafael acquired the property and entered an agreement to sell it to Toll Brothers, a national luxury home builder, for $3 million. But the deal hadn’t closed yet when the fire happened, and it’s not clear if the fire has had any effect on the agreement. Toll Brothers did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Rafael has served time in federal custody for mislabeling fish and falsifying records. His son-in-law, realtor and contractor Jeff Hathaway, spoke to news outlets about Toll Brothers’ plans to turn the property into condos for seniors after the deal was first announced last month. Hathaway did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.
When investigators try to determine the cause of a fire, they look for the point of origin — usually the area with the most damage, Wark said. From there, investigators look for evidence of potential causes.
“Depending on the extent of damage, this may be easy, arduous, or impossible — and it can sometimes be ascertained only with heavy equipment and careful delayering,” Wark, the fire marshal spokesperson, said in an email.
The fire marshal has a dozen K-9s that can detect accelerants, and investigators may test samples from places where the dogs think they found something. Investigators also use witness accounts and video.
Wark did not provide any information on what specific evidence led investigators to rule the country club fire as a possible arson, but he said investigators hope to hear from anyone who has information on the fire.
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