A serial arsonist who pleaded guilty to setting five fires — including one that seriously injured several District firefighters — was sentenced to 25 years in prison Tuesday.
Maurice T. Dews, 27, was arrested in July. He pleaded guilty in November to charges of arson and assault. In addition to the prison time, he received five years’ probation during Tuesday’s hearing in D.C. Superior Court.
During the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ephraim Wernick said Dews was charged with “just a handful” of the fires authorities could link to him.
Wernick said Dews had an “unhealthy fascination with fire” and a “perverse” desire to be part of a rescue operation. He would call 911 to report fires that he set at vacant houses in the District and Maryland, according to court papers.
According to the terms of his plea agreement, Dews was to plead guilty to three other counts of arson in Prince George’s County. His sentence for those offenses would be served concurrently with the 25 years delivered Tuesday, authorities said, contingent upon a Maryland judge’s approval.
The sentence was connected to five incidents in the District between 2008 and 2011. At a predawn blaze on April 8, a vacant residence in the 800 block of 48th Place burned after trash was piled and set afire. Five D.C. firefighters were hurt battling that blaze; two of them spoke Tuesday.
The fire “changed my life and almost destroyed my career,” said Charles Ryan, who talked about the care he received from his family before returning to work after seven months. He was burned on about 30 percent of his body and needed several operations.
“This almost destroyed me, but I’m not going to let it,” Ryan said.
Robert Alvarado said the heat from the fire was so intense that he was forced to the floor and thought he would die.
He suffered second-degree burns on his hands, arms, shoulder, back and ears. In a hospital burn center afterward, Alvarado recalled, he heard a colleague’s screams of pain.
“When Dews’s sentence is over, we’ll still be serving a life sentence,” Alvarado said. “We’ll never get past this.”
Dews apologized to the firefighters for their “pain and suffering.” His attorney, Betty Ballester, said her client suffered from mental illness and set the fires to “relieve himself.”
Judge Ann O’Regan Keary said it was unfortunate that Dews’s mental illness had not been recognized and treated earlier. She ordered him to receive mental health services and anger-management treatment during his incarceration.
“I’m going to try and get myself together,” Dews said.