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Police believe latest arson at Tampa house is unrelated to previous five

TAMPA — A vacant house in the V.M. Ybor neighborhood that was repeatedly set on fire during an 18-month string of arsons that frightened residents was the target of arson again early Monday.

The latest fire raises a perplexing question: With a serial arson suspect behind bars, why was the house hit again?

"We don't know why this house has been targeted, but we don't believe it's part of any pattern," said police spokeswoman Andrea Davis, who said the fire didn't share the same characteristics as the previous arsons at the address. She declined to elaborate.

Fire crews responded to 1412 E 21st Ave. shortly after midnight. It took crews almost 40 minutes to get the fire under control. The blaze caused $50,000 in damage, exceeding the home's value, said Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Lonnie Benniefield.

No one was injured and the cause was not immediately available.

It's the sixth time since Nov. 1, 2009, that the home has been set ablaze. The building had previously been targeted three times in November 2009, once in December 2009 and again in January 2010.

Kim Headland, president of the V.M. Ybor Neighborhood Association, has a simple explanation why it may have been targeted again.

"It's a vacant property," she said, "and it draws that attention, unfortunately."

Headland lamented the area's high vacancy rate, saying that it contributes to illegal behavior.

"That particular house … it's kind of a magnet for that," she said. "Hopefully it will be torn down."

The house fires that terrorized V.M. Ybor neighborhood residents began in February 2008. More than two dozen fires were deliberately set.

In July 2010, police arrested the man they said was responsible for at least one of the fires — a Jan. 29 arson at 1412 E 21st Ave.

Kenneth B. Smith, 44, faces a charge of first-degree arson in the incident. He's suspected of starting 13 fires in the area, including four others at that address.

Smith was still in a Hillsborough County jail on Monday on a first-degree arson charge.

Another man arrested in the spate of Ybor arsons, 57-year-old Reginald Gray, also was in jail Monday.

In May, police arrested Gray after he told authorities he torched two homes because he was tired of homeless people living rent-free. Investigators have said they believe he is linked to five more, but he only faces charges in two fires.

Police have said they don't expect to make any other arrests in the arsons.

Freddie Restl, who works at a small-engine repair shop next to 1412 E 21st Ave., said he thought the fires were put out for good.

"What I don't get is they already got somebody for the arson," said Restl, 53, . "How is it happening again? It makes you wonder."

Tampa Fire officials ask anyone with information about the fire to call (813) 274-7000.

Police believe latest arson at Tampa house is unrelated to previous five 07/18/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 19, 2011 12:14am]
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