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Arsonist suspected in garbage bin fires

A firefighter was slightly injured in the early-morning madness left by a suspected arsonist who seems to be targeting a St. Petersburg neighborhood.

A vacant house, garage and four garbage bins were burned within 45 minutes as firefighters dashed from one scene to another along 19th and 20th avenues S and 15th and 16th streets.

"They were all pretty much in a pattern," said fire Lt. Thomas Young, a deputy fire marshal. "Obviously, it was an intentional thing. There's pretty strong indication it was the same individual."

The arsonist could have been traveling by bicycle, but no suspect had been identified by late Wednesday. The investigation was continuing.

"We really don't have any information yet," said fire inspector Harry Patterson. "These people do these things in the dead of night, and there usually are no witnesses."

Firefighters initially were called about 1:26 a.m. to 1621 19th Ave. S, where a trash bin fire had spread to a detached garage. Three minutes later, firefighters received word of another garbage fire at 1929 16th St. S.

At 2:06 a.m., firefighters were summoned to 1520 20th Ave. S, where a fire had consumed the living room of a boarded-up house. While there, firefighter Craig Palmisano was injured when trying to enter the burning house. Glass cut through his glove, and Palmisano was treated for a deep cut. After receiving stitches in his hand, he was allowed to return to light-duty work.

But the night wasn't over for his fellow firefighters. At 2:12 a.m., two more trash bin fires were reported near 15th Street and 20th Avenue S.

Investigators found no indication of an accelerant being used in the fires, but they noted the trash itself was easy to ignite.

"We were able to handle it," fire Capt. Greg Lanning. "All of the fires did put a little bit of stress on our manpower because of the load."

Detective Bill Schorn, the police arson investigator, said the fires apparently were started in the same manner. But a motive remains unclear, he said.

Other than the locations and times, he said, the fires do not appear to be part of a larger plot targeting particular people or property owners.

Patterson, the fire inspector, said trash bins and vacant buildings often are targets.

"I just think it was part of the holiday routine," he said. "I don't know if people just don't have anything better to do. Historically, these vacant abandoned buildings have been a target for various individuals, because they are vulnerable and they are there."