TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The Tampa Fire Department confirmed arson investigators are looking into two fires in a vacant home that is also the focus of a city investigation that was first reported about 48 hours before the fires were allegedly set.
Fire department investigators spent several hours Wednesday in the East Caracas Street home examining the debris left by small fires allegedly set in the garage and a bedroom closet. Tampa Fire Rescue Public Information Officer Vivian Mcilrath said the fires are part of “an open arson investigation.”
“We have no additional details at this time,” Mcilrath said. “Our fire incident reports are shared with Code Enforcement, to keep their team aware of any fires within the city that our fire investigators respond to.”
City Spokesperson Lauren Rozyla said construction and code inspectors began investigating property owner Mary Browning’s complaints about the home last month.
Browning has also filed a complaint about builder Victoria Hopps with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the agency that licenses contractors. Hopps has an otherwise-clean record with DBPR, according to the agency’s website.
Browning claims in addition to issues with craftmanship involving the slab, doors and windows, Hopps is more than three years behind the 120-day completion date stated in the Nov. 2018 contract to build the home.
Hopps said she has not been contacted by arson investigators and referenced her lawsuit that claims Browning owes her nearly $91,000. In her complaint to DBPR, Browning stated she has paid Hopps and other contractors about $170,000.
“I have nothing to gain by destroying my collateral,” Hopps said. “I have no insurance on her property.”
Browning denies she owes Hopps any money.
“That’s ridiculous,” Browing said. “I have receipts for everything I paid her.”
Browning called the closet fire “very suspicious” since the location also offers evidence of her complaint about the slab. The closet floor has a sharp dip that is steep enough for a ball to roll toward the back of the closet without a push.
According to Rozyla, there are no records that section of the slab was inspected by the city. She said the slab under the main part of the home was inspected.
Hopps and the city acknowledged the framing was never inspected.