TAMPA — At first, the 16-year-old appeared to be just another curious neighbor watching authorities investigate an early-morning house fire. He chatted with a few fire officials and walked up and down the street, shirtless, taking in the action.
But when one investigator started asking Michael Craig what he knew, the investigator noticed inconsistencies in the teen's statements. Fire officials decided to bring him in for questioning, and that's when he confessed, said Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman Bill Wade.
They charged Craig with burglary and arson in the fire at 2706 E 18th Ave. Investigators believe Craig entered the home before dawn and set a couch on fire using a lighter. The teen lives next door to the home, fire officials said.
A few hours after the fire, Craig was walking on the street in front of the house. He slapped hands with a neighbor, saying that he had to go to the police station to take a polygraph test and that he would be back in a few hours.
Wade said he spoke with Craig at the scene. It was just small talk, nothing unusual. The fire rescue spokesman said he often speaks with inquisitive neighbors.
He said he's surprised that Craig was so chatty but not that the boy hung around the scene.
"Sometimes arsonists set a fire because they want to see the excitement that they caused and the damage that they caused," Wade said.
The fire caused about $60,000 in damage. No one was injured.
Investigators said they had no information connecting Craig to other arson fires in the area.
The house is not far from Tampa's V.M. Ybor neighborhood, the site of a string of about 20 arsons that led to the July arrest of Kenneth B. Smith, who is suspected in 12 of those fires.
Firefighters had the blaze under control within 30 minutes. The property is owned by WHP Investments LLC Trustee, according to property records. All of the windows in the front were blown out, and the roof was charred.
The house was frequented by squatters, said Wayne Robinson, 47, who lives next door.
"That's just a bad scene there," he said.
Robinson said he woke up early Wednesday and heard breaking glass outside his house. He looked out the window and saw an orange glow coming from inside the building. By the time he called 911 and notified neighbors, flames were visible outside the building.
Times staff writer Andy Boyle contributed to this report.