TAMPA — With the addition Wednesday of yet another fire to the list of arsons terrifying an east Ybor neighborhood, Mayor Pam Iorio's patience with the investigation is running out.
"It has just gone on too long, there have been too many arsons and this case has to get solved, period," Iorio said.
For the last few months, a task force of Tampa fire investigators, police, prosecutors, state investigators and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents have been trying to find the arsonist who set 23 fires in and around the V.M. Ybor neighborhood since January 2009.
Two investigators from the state Fire Marshal's Office are working on the case full time. Ten other investigators are available, if needed, said Sam Venzeio, a state fire marshal Tampa division spokesman.
Iorio, who receives regular updates on the case from police Chief Jane Castor, said those extra investigators are needed now.
"The state fire marshal needs to make this a top priority and find the person or people responsible," she said.
Venzeio said he doesn't know if Iorio has contacted the state Fire Marshal's Office to request more help in the investigation. He declined to comment on Iorio's remarks.
The state fire marshal Wednesday declared the blaze at 1704 E 19th Ave. the 23rd arson on the growing list. The Tuesday afternoon blaze engulfed a vacant, 1930s, single-story, frame house that had been a target of arson twice before. The windows were still boarded from the previous fires when rescue crews showed up.
The task force is hoping tips from residents will help lead to the capture of the arsonist. There is a $7,000 reward for anyone with information leading to an arrest or conviction.
Residents should keep their eyes and ears open to any odd behavior in their neighborhood, said Lt. Tamera Kemp, a spokeswoman for Tampa Fire Rescue.
"If they see somebody that is hiding or ducking around in the shadows or carrying a container of some sort to a house that is vacant, then be suspicious," she said.
Meanwhile, investigators have collected evidence from each of the fires and sent it to a lab to learn more about the arsonist, Kemp said.
Because it's an ongoing investigation, details about how the fires are related are not being released.
Many of the homes involved in the arson string were vacant. Court records show that more than half of the homes were in foreclosure.
Two other fires earlier Tuesday in Ybor were ruled arson as well, but investigators believed they are not linked to the others.
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or [email protected]