Commuters speeding to work this week have two fewer cameras to worry about — after a pair of fires that might be connected.
Two fixed-pole speed cameras were set ablaze Monday, according to Capt. Oscar Garcia, a spokesman for Montgomery County police, and the two fires appear similar.
A camera on Quince Orchard Road near McDonald Chapel Drive was reported burning about 2:30 a.m. Firefighters arrived to find a torched box, but no active fire.
Police and fire officials found the second burned camera about noon Monday, three miles west of the first, in the 15500 block of Germantown Road, during a search of the area.
Investigators have not officially connected the fires, Garcia said, but both were set intentionally on Monday. Investigators have not identified any other similarities, he said.
Both cameras are inoperable. Officials estimate repairs to the boxes and computer systems, owned by Montgomery County, will cost $40,000 each, a total of $80,000. Montgomery County has insurance on the cameras, and will pay to repair the damaged boxes.
The Montgomery County police automated traffic enforcement unit purchases and maintains the county’s speed cameras. Officials do not yet know how long the repairs will take. Police could not say how much the cameras cost.
Officials have not identified any suspects, but are scanning surveillance cameras in nearby parking lots and apartment complexes.
Officials have not determined how the fires were started, Garcia said. The back of the metal camera box on Quince Orchard Road was open when officials arrived Monday. The box contains a highly flammable electrical unit and rubber wires, which when exposed to heat could easily burst in flames, he said.
This is the first incident of speed camera vandalism since two cameras were sprayed with paint early this year. During the first 15 months Montgomery County speed cameras were in operation, from May 2007 to August 2008, 10 instances of vandalism were reported; in all of them, the cameras were spray painted.
Within the past month, the torched camera on Quince Orchard Road had captured about 900 speeding violations, according to Lucille Baur, a Montgomery County police spokeswoman. Baur did not have information about the second camera.
Montgomery County has 121 sites designated for speed cameras. Of those, 62 sites have fixed cameras, and the other 59 are monitored by six portable cameras and six vans equipped with speed cameras.
In September, Montgomery County issued 33,000 citations, at $40 each, for speed camera violations.
The county was expected to garner about $17.2 million in speed camera revenue in fiscal 2010.
A Maryland law authorizing use of speed cameras in school zones and highway work zones took effect Oct. 1, 2009.