St. Petersburg police are investigating an arson in a vacant home, and they believe it may be connected to four other fires on, essentially, one city block.
Detectives found evidence of the most recent fire a vacant home at 181 79th Street South. A neighbor called investigators on January 1, around 7 p.m., and told them it appeared someone broke into the home. Once inside, they found fire damage inside the home. The fire apparently burned draperies and areas of the carpet before it extinguished itself.
Police have investigated an arson at this home before. On September 4, 2012, the home's previous owner discovered evidence of a fire set outside the house, near an air conditioning unit. In this case also, the fire appeared to have self-extinguished.
Three other homes have also been targeted by an arsonist between October 2011 and November 2012. Those homes are located at 7949 2nd Avenue South, 199 79th Street South, and 7909 2nd Avenue South. Two of those fires resulted in extensive damage, and in one, a dog died.
"They're looking for locations where nobody's at home and it's easy to do something like this and not get caught," said Mike Puetz, spokesman for the St. Petersburg Police Dept.
It's put this neighborhood on edge. Many hesitated to leave home for the holidays.
"Frankly – I'm not too sure what's going to happen," said Michael Jasek, who lives near the arsons. "The last one scared everybody and this one causes almost a panic. This is just … it's a big concern. People don't seem to know what to do anymore"
Some neighbors are installing alarm systems or video systems.
"Any time there's a cable guy on the street – you check with your neighbors to make sure that it's somebody who's supposed to be there," said neighbor Sue Orlando. "You look out your windows more."
Detectives are trying to determine if it's one suspect or multiple people who have been setting the fires.
"Whether it's for personal gain [or] whether it's someone who enjoys setting the fires … we're really not really sure at this point," said Rodney Tower, a detective with St. Petersburg Police. "We have to investigate as if it's going to continue or we're going to have something more severe. That's what we don't want."
Anyone with information regarding the arsons should call the non-emergency number at 727-893-7780, Text-A-Tip to 727-420-8911 or leave a confidential tip at 727-892-5000.
News Channel 8's Josh Green contributed to this report.
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