JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The state Fire Marshal's Office is investigating whether suspected arsons on three abandoned homes in Jacksonville's historic Springfield neighborhood this week are related.
Investigators are working to determine whether the fires were started by the same the person, but they believe vagrants were staying or sleeping in the vacant houses several blocks apart that went up in flames in less than 24 hours.
"There may have been some sort of squatting or occupants within these three abandoned buildings. There was some evidence of food wrappers and trash and clothing items that were recovered from some of the scenes. It is something, again, we are looking into as the investigation progresses," said Jon Moore, of the state Fire Marshal's Office.
A vacant house at Jessie and Ionia streets was set on fire Tuesday. On Wednesday, firefighters responded to two more vacant house fires in the area of Third and Clark streets, just blocks from Tuesday's fire.
"We have not been able to confirm these three incidents are related. However, it is something we are looking into as the investigation progresses," Moore said.
Signs have been posted at the three sites, saying officials believe the fires were a result of arson and that there is a reward for information. By law, the properties must be boarded up by owners.
"We get a notice. We have 15 days to get out here and correct it. And if we don't do that, they board up and charge us for it," said property manager Bethany Salcan. "Is it dangerous? Well, anytime you go into a structure that's supported up like this, I'm sure it is."
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office confirmed it has increased patrols in the area because of the string of suspected arsons on abandoned homes.
"It's next door to my house, my children, my animals. It's pretty scary," said neighbor Jennifer Capes.
Other residents in the areas also expressed concern about the fires, saying the trend is disturbing.
"This is the third fire and the area and that's crazy. This is the first time I've ever heard of anything like this," said neighbor Tynelia Lowe.
It is not the first time the community has been hit by arsonists. In 2003 to 2005, there were numerous fires and many were linked to Dusty Simmonds, who is currently serving time in prison for setting those fires.
During her trial, it was reported she set the fires because she wanted to keep certain people out of Springfield.
The Fire Marshal's Office asks anyone who sees something suspicious, such as people hanging out in vacant homes, or any other information about the fires to call the state Arson Tip Hotline at 1-877-NO-ARSON.