Police said the man who set the fire was Charles R. Smith III, 38, who friends said was a former captain with a volunteer fire department in Accomack County. His girlfriend, Tonya S. Bundick, 40, was driving the getaway car, police said.
The arrests shocked friends and neighbors, who said the couple did not fit the portrait of serial arsonists. They live in a single-
family home, and Smith has an auto body shop in Tasley. Bundick, who has two school-age children, runs a small clothing shop.
“I don’t think there’s anybody that doesn’t know them,” said Erik Redmond, an acquaintance and a medic in a local fire department. “They were a very social couple. They were always out in all the bars. . . . It’s not like they were reclusive.”
Redmond said one of his co-workers saw Bundick dressed as the Easter Bunny for a Sunday event — the same day an abandoned two-story building was torched in the town of Acccomac.
For residents of the Eastern Shore, apprehension grew as fires were set roughly every other night since mid-November. The arsonist appeared to know what he was doing: Virginia State Police said the fires have been set in such ways as to go undetected for an hour or two, and he took care to set them in areas with multiple escape routes and at random locations around the county. Residents had no idea what might be lit ablaze next.
State police officials declined to discuss a possible motive for the arsons, which have targeted abandoned and vacant buildings up and down the county, but said evidence collected from the scenes and statements made by the couple implicated them.
“We are confident that Bundick and Smith are responsible for the majority of the fires set,” said Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for the state police.
Geller declined to discuss what evidence linked the couple to the fire or the methods used to light the fires.
Bundick and Smith were charged with one felony count of arson and one felony count of conspiracy to commit arson in connection with the Monday fire, which was lit about 11:40 p.m. in Melfa. But Geller said more charges would be filed in the coming days in connection with the other arsons.
The blazes touched off a major investigation by federal, state and local authorities, who employed a plane, plainclothes officers and predictive software to try to catch the arsonists before a blaze resulted in a death.
The Gomez family was one of the early targets of the arsonists. The detached garage behind the family’s home in Parksley erupted in flames one night in mid-
December, charring about $50,000 worth of personal items.