A man whose family said he was depressed since losing his job was charged with setting fire to his own apartment, at 6910 W Waters Ave. Monday morning, displacing more than a dozen families.
Gezaheign Awasi, a 45-year-old Ethiopian immigrant, was taken from the complex after firefighters contained the blaze. Awasi was booked into the Hillsborough County Jail on arson charges.
Awasi told deputies he started the fire, said Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokesman Ray Yeakley. "I started the fire with a match - I lit the bed on fire," Yeakley quoted him as saying.
An arrest report adds that he said: "I wanted to kill myself."
No one was injured, though Awasi was taken away on a stretcher. Yeakley said Awasi may have had other medical issues.
Awasi's wife, Tsehai Zike, 39, said the family moved to the area three years ago "to make a better life," and her husband worked at a credit company until he was laid off in March.
Zike said her husband was on medication for depression but was a good guy. She said he enjoyed reading the Bible and singing.
"He never smoked, he never drank, he never did nothing except this thing," she said. "I'm really sad. We came here to get a better opportunity from Africa."
Authorities said more than a dozen families were displaced from their apartments by the blaze that sent 40- to 50-foot flames shooting through the roof. Yeakley said damage was estimated at $350,000.
Zike said she and her 18-year-old daughter, Mahlet Gemechu, left the apartment early Monday for work and school, as usual.
As Gemechu was walking to her bus stop, she noticed her father waving from the window, and she thought it was strange for him to be awake so early. She said she called her mother to have her check on him.
When Zike got the call, she was already outside the home, getting in her car. She went back upstairs but found the door chain-locked from the inside.
Zike said her husband wouldn't let her in. That's when she heard the fire alarm and called 911.
Gemechu had already run home and met her mother outside, where they both stood crying and terrified. They thought Awasi was still inside.
But neighbors said Awasi had been running around the building, screaming and wrestling with a neighbor who was trying to warn other residents about the blaze.
Neighbor Eric Cohn said he heard Awasi yelling, "Everybody's going to burn down. How do you like it now? Drink my blood."
Cohn said Awasi jumped onto the hood of a car a neighbor was moving before fire trucks arrived. Then, Cohn said, Awasi and the neighbor fought.
Police immediately took Awasi into custody, said neighbor Jay Garcia. "I saw like five cops grab him and handcuff him," Garcia said.
Gemechusaid the behavior was out of character for her dad. "He's always quiet."
Awasi has no criminal history in Florida, say records at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.