St. Pete Police search for arsonist who set 9 fires

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — St. Petersburg police are trying to catch an arsonist who is believed to have set nine fires in the city since mid-January.

All of the fires were set in the Crescent Lake neighborhood. So far, no one has been injured.

Investigators say it’s likely the same person started all of the fires, or most of them, because of the similarity and proximity of the fires. All arson locations are between 8th Street and MLK Street, and 15th Ave. N and 21st Ave. N.

One  security camera caught the firebug in the act. On the afternoon of Jan. 17, he lit the gas tank on a Ford and sauntered off. He had no concern his crimes could kill someone.

A few blocks away, police say he set fire to a container off 20th Avenue North. It’s a melted mess, and it’s just feet from 1920’s style homes, all made of wood.

“A little close. Yeah the neighbor’s fence caught on fire so that’s a little dangerous,” said neighbor Bart Hanchey.

Arson investigators can’t pin down a motive for this firebug’s deeds, but said it could be, that he gets some kind of thrill.

“Most of the time with these individuals there’s the excitement, there’s the adrenaline from the fire but also the apparatus and everything that goes along with the igniting of the fire,” said Deputy Fire Marshal Steven Lawrence.

The fires keep coming. Sometimes minutes apart, all in a 6-block area of St. Pete’s Crescent Lake neighborhood. Many of the fires are set in the dead of night, when few people are awake to see and report the flames.

“Makes me kind of scared, especially if it’s right down the street from me. Literally a few houses,” said Nikki Milliner.

There is evidence of a fire in a dumpster, likely set by the arsonist, very close by. St. Petersburg police and fire investigators are pleading for help to solve these cases.

“Any type of strange behavior around the dumpsters, in the alleys, at night time, we’re having a lot of them after midnight, the midnight hours,” said Detective Tom Tully with the St. Petersburg Police Department.

Police are asking homeowners who have security cameras to check their recordings to see if they have video of the arsonist. Police also want people to be especially aware of what may be happening near dumpsters.

Here are the dates and locations of the fires:

  • Jan. 17: 921 15 Av N; Vehicle accelerant placed in fuel compartment of vehicle
  • Jan. 18: 1600 Dr MLK Jr St N; building set on fire
  • Jan. 30: 1921 Dr MLK Jr St; Fire in dumpster caused fire to start on three vehicles
  • Jan. 30: 1921 Dr MLK Jr St; Fire in dumpster caused scooter fire
  • Jan. 30: 1921 Dr MLK Jr St; Four dumpsters set on fire
  • Jan. 30: 870 20 Avenue N; Fire in dumpster caused fence fire
  • Feb. 16: 821 21 Avenue N; Dumpster set on fire
  • Mar. 11: 860 20 Avenue N; Dumpster set on fire
  • Mar. 11: 808 16 Avenue N; Dumpster set on fire

Residents are asked to call St. Petersburg Police with information and keep an eye out for anything suspicious. They have released video of a possible suspect, involved in an arson fire on January 17th in the 900 block of 15th Ave. North. Police say a guy wearing a purplish jacket and carrying a large skateboard intentionally set fire to an unattended 2013 Ford Fiesta by placing some type of accelerant in or near the gas tank.

Map courtesy St. Petersburg Police
Map courtesy St. Petersburg Police

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