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Arson suspected in 2 fires set 2 blocks apart

54-year-old man charged with setting 1st fire was in custody when 2nd started

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo of John Collins
Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo of John Collins

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Firefighters battled two fires of vacant houses blocks apart in an Eastside neighborhood Tuesday night. Residents believe both were set, but by different people.

Jacksonville Fire-Rescue got the first call just after 7 p.m. reporting flames coming from a house at 1131 East 14th Street.

"I saw a puff a smoke come out of the back of the house, and that's when I knew the house was on fire," said Darrell Smith. "Somebody had to set it, because ... the water and lights were cut off last Friday."

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo of John Collins
Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo of John Collins

Police detained John Collins, 54, at the scene and later charged him with arson. According to the arrest report, Collins was intoxicated.

"He was belligerent. He was highly intoxicated and he was walking back and forth," Smith said. "I don't point the finger at nobody and sometimes, when you have a lot of hatred built up inside of you, you do things without thinking."

According to the arrest report, Collins had told a neighbor earlier in the evening that he was upset that his girlfriend had broken up with him. A neighbor overheard Collins say, "I'm going to burn the house down."

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About four hours later, firefighters were called to a fire of a house on 2217 Franklin St. -- just two blocks away. 

While both fires caused extensive damage, they were quickly contained and there were no injuries.

"It's a little scary," said neighbor John Struher. "That's two in one night. That's not good."

The state fire marshal is still investigating the cause of the Franklin Street fire, but neighbors believe it was also an arson. But it couldn't have been the same person because Collins was taken into custody about an hour before the second fire began

On Wednesday, both homes have signs saying they are condemned and that arson investigators are looking for information. 


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