After a pause, arsonist returns
By PATRICK COOPER
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 12, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- After a quiet month, an arsonist has struck again inside a four-block area near downtown that suffered nine arsons in November.
The latest fire, which caused minimal damage early Thursday morning to a house at 533 Third Ave. S, fits the pattern of the November arsons, investigators said.
All have been set outside of buildings.
No one has been arrested.
The Thursday fire was the second at a building with someone inside.
"If this is the same person, they've now graduated," fire Lt. Chris Bengivengo said.
A tenant was sleeping in one of the four apartments in the house when the fire was set, building manager Ezell Boykin said. Another tenant returning from his job smelled smoke.
Bengivengo said the neighborhood has been lucky. "Just like every one before this, people noticing it early has been the salvation, he said."
No one has been injured in the fires, and damage has been moderate, Bates said.
Fire and police officials, however, say they are especially concerned because of the condition of many buildings in the area.
"This is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city of St. Petersburg. All the homes are made out of wood and in very close proximity," said police spokesman Dan Bates. "Should one of these fires actually catch, we'd have an incredibly dangerous situation."
As Boykin and his grandson, Tremayne Dudley, cleaned up Thursday afternoon, both said they were sick of the fires. One of November's fires had been set in a neighboring house that Boykin also runs.
"Hopefully, they won't come back," Dudley said.
Bengivengo said firefighters likely will talk to neighborhood residents next week as part of the department's "Home Safe" fire prevention program.
Taking preventive measures such as installing outdoor lighting and removing debris outside make it harder for an arsonist, he said.
Anyone with information on the fires was asked to call arson investigator Bill Schorn at (727) 892-5212.
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