70ºF

Overnight Apartment Fires Arson?

Firefighters, Police Investigate Fire At Jacksonville Apartment Complex

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Police and firefighters responded overnight to suspicious fires at an apartment complex in the Glynlea area, south of Arlington.

Five cars and two stairwells were burning about 2 a.m. Thursday in a building near the back of the Columns Apartments at 331 Laurina Street.

Thanks to a quick-thinking neighbor, one of the stairwell fires was put out before Jacksonville Fire and Rescue arrived, witnesses said.

"I woke up and had my husband check outside, and when he opened up the door, there were flames at his feet," one tenant told Channel 4's Melanie Lawson.

The woman said her husband grabbed a trash can, filled it with water and dumped it on the flames. He then grabbed a fire extinguisher to finish the job, she said.

While the man was putting out the fire, his wife was screaming down the hallway, helping to clear the building.

"I just turned around and started yelling, 'The building's on fire. The building's on fire. Get out, get out,' and apparently I woke up the whole building," said resident Arissa Cook.

Video:

"We ran out the back door and then everything started turning black," said resident Ashley Crittenden. "I seen the cars on fire, lined up down the street. It's just crazy."

It took firefighters about 10 minutes to put out the rest of the fires. No one was hurt.

The fires were a terrifying sight for 13-year old Walter Rodriguez.

"One of the cars was right under one of the transformers and the power lines from my house, so if a car blew up, it would just turn on fire everything," Rodriguez said.

While 39 people -- 14 of whom are children -- were initially asked to leave their units, all but six families, consisting of 23 people, were allowed to return to their apartments. Red Cross volunteers were working with the families to arrange temporary lodging.

JFRD spokesman Tom Francis told Channel 4 the fires were set by an arsonist(s). The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and the state Fire Marshal's Office were both investigating.

Residents say they have no idea who did this or why.

"I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to do this to me, and come to think of it I can't imagine why anyone would want to do it to my neighbors," Sinkler said.

Anyone with information that can help investigators find who set the fires is asked to call 877-NO-ARSON.