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Fire is the latest of 18 arsons in one Tampa neighborhood

TAMPA — One Tampa neighborhood has seen 18 arsons in the past year, including two this week, Tampa Fire Rescue said Wednesday.

For now, the only obvious thing connecting the fires is location: the V.M. Ybor neighborhood north of historic Ybor City.

Acting Fire Marshal Milton Jenkins called a news conference Wednesday morning at the site of a Tuesday arson, 1704 E 19th Ave., to discuss the ongoing investigation and offer safety tips to residents in the area.

Jenkins said authorities have questioned a "person of interest" in three of the arsons, but no one has been arrested or named as a suspect.

At least four of the homes were in foreclosure, but Jenkins said it was unclear if that was a motive.

Fourteen of the homes in the area, north of Interstate 4 and west of 22nd Street, were vacant when they were set on fire. Four were occupied.

Some were set on fire more than once. No injuries or deaths were reported, but the fires caused more than $400,000 in damage, authorities said.

Of the 18 arsons, 10 were in the past month and a half, and two were this week. Some happened in the middle of the day, some overnight. Some were started outside the homes and some inside. Most involved wood-frame homes.

Jenkins said authorities are looking into whether these arsons could be connected to a similar rash in the Tampa Heights and Ybor City area between 1997 and 2000, but so far there's no clear link, other than that the fires happened in areas where people live in close quarters.

Jenkins said the arsons might have been committed by one person, a group of people or even copycats.

The most recent fire, at 1412 E 21st Ave., was the fourth at that address — Wednesday and on Nov. 1, Nov. 7 and Nov. 25, authorities said. The home set afire Tuesday afternoon on E 19th Avenue was also set on fire Oct. 31.

Larry Cutler, 53, lives next door.

"When the police knocked on my door and said everybody needs to get out, the first thing that came to my mind was, 'Again?' " Cutler said.

He said no one has lived in the home for years.

"Oh man, it's too close for comfort," Cutler said. "Now I'm nervous. Now I'm watching."

Many of the homes in the neighborhood are wood-frame and close together, making it easy for a fire to leap from one house to another.

Tampa fire officials ask that residents keep an eye on vacant homes and report suspicious behavior in their neighborhood to an arson tip line at (813) 274-7133.

Map of the 18 homes that were set on fire this year

View Tampa Arson in a larger map

Fire is the latest of 18 arsons in one Tampa neighborhood 12/09/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 9, 2009 11:59pm]
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