TAMPA — Edward Hollins awoke to the sound of sirens Monday.
When he looked outside, he saw fire trucks less than a block away.
On the television, he heard the news: authorities were searching for the arsonist who set three vacant homes ablaze Monday morning near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and N Florida Avenue.
The first blaze was reported at 5:47 a.m. at 3809 N Highland Ave. A witness reported seeing someone swiftly walking away from the fire, Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said.
Officers set up a perimeter from W Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to E Floribraska Avenue and N Florida Avenue to N Highland Avenue. Canine patrols, helicopters and plainclothes officers searched the area.
At 6:27 a.m., a second fire was reported on the next street over, at 3810 N Tampa St.
That's when the arson task force — which includes officials from Tampa Fire Rescue, the State Fire Marshal and Tampa police's homicide squad — arrived to investigate.
At 6:29 a.m., the third fire was reported at another home at 3802 N Arlington Ave.
No injuries were reported, said Tampa Fire Rescue spokeswoman Debra Sue Warshefski.
After more than two hours of searching, officers broke down the perimeter. The fires remained under investigation Monday.
The house along N Highland Avenue was destroyed. Blackened branches in the front yard hovered above the charred roof. The smell of smoke lingered.
The other two houses sustained less damage. No other houses neighboring those set ablaze were affected, officials said.
Some neighbors near the burnt homes expressed concern about the arson fires.
Hollins and his wife Wanda, who live a few houses away from the third blaze, said they worry about the safety of their home.
"It's so quiet, then all of a sudden something like this happens," Hollins said.
Laura C. Morel can be reached at [email protected] or (813)226-3386.