Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Public safety

Arsons put St. Petersburg neighborhood on edge

ST. PETERSBURG — The Causeway Isles neighborhood is on edge, say some residents, after a recent arson, the fourth in a series that began more than a year ago.

Police believe at least some of the fires are connected.

"We're hanging in there the best we can," said Kerry Diday, victim of the latest fire, which was Nov. 25 at his home at 7949 Second Ave. S. "We lost everything."

The fire also killed Diday's dog, Merlin.

He and his wife were in Arizona on vacation at the time of the fire. They received a call at 4:30 a.m. from neighbors and made arrangements to fly home.

They returned to a house nearly gutted. Ashen clumps litter the roof, while a large chunk of debris rests on a potting rack on the walkway. A lingering charred scent is apparent anywhere downwind of the home.

Neighbors are being extra vigilant, said neighbor Mike Jasek.

"I was at the neighbors' helping them go through their stuff today," he said, "and it's like every time a car goes by everybody's looking."

The first fire was at 7909 Second Ave. S on Oct. 25, 2011, two doors down from the Didays. A fire was started from the interior of the house while the residents were out of town. The house had to be torn down, leaving an empty lot.

Two smaller fires were next. The first, on Sept. 4, was at 181 79th St. S. Also vacant, the house experienced minor damage from a small fire outside the home near an air-conditioning unit. The fire burned itself out. On Oct. 16, a similar fire was started on the screen porch at 199 79th St. S. It, too, was unoccupied, and the fire again failed to grow.

"It's concerning because it seems to be escalating," said Leslie Sisto, a neighbor. "There was a big fire and then two minor fires and now a big fire with two animals being trapped. I mean, how long until there's a fire with a person trapped?"

According to Arson Detective Bill Schorn, the similarities between the October 2011 fire and the most recent fire lead him to believe they are connected, though he isn't sure about links to the two smaller fires.

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