Arsonist sought in string of fires

Authorities are said to be focusing on a suspect caught on tape by a home surveillance camera at a recent fire. The video is dark and grainy and does not provide authorities with a clear image of the suspect.

May 21, 2010 4:05:28 PM PDT
More than a dozen homes in southwest Houston have been damaged by suspicious fires. Now, investigators are looking for any kind of break to find out who is starting them. On Thursday, the two latest fires broke out within blocks and just minutes of each other. Now firefighters are releasing new details about 15 fires, with the suspected arsonist caught on camera.

About three weeks ago in the middle of the night, an attached garage was caught on fire and it appears to be the work of a serial arsonist in the Alief area.

A security video shows a homeowner getting out of her car early in the morning of May 2. The next image you see on the video is a man walking and carrying a bottle believed to contain a flammable liquid. The next image is flames from the fire he's suspected of starting.

The video captured one of at least a dozen fires reported in southwest Houston since mid-February.

Two of the fires were in March; then another two in April. But this month, there have been eight fires, sometimes two reported in a day.

As the pace increases, do does the danger.

"With the escalation of the fire, there's a potential for someone getting injured," Houston Fire Department Arson Chief Gabe Cortez said. "There's also more potential of bringing attention for themselves."

All the fires are within a few miles of each other, and many occurred in the same neighborhoods. With the exception of one case, the homes have all been occupied by people who were in bed at the time.

"All the fires occur from about midnight to six in the morning," Houston City Councilman Al Hoang said. "At that time, most people are well asleep; it worries me because there might be a fatal injury in the near future."

Law enforcement is on alert, and people in the neighborhoods are being advised to get smoke detectors and be vigilant as well.

Natasha Thompson is one of the homeowners whose house was among those damaged by the arsonist. She says she needs no reminder to be alert.

"I stay in more," Thompson said. "The dog barks, I get up and check everything out and make sure everybody hears stuff and sees if their stuff is safe."

The garage fire caught on tape caused about $20,000 in damage, another home sustained about $30,000 in damage; others homes sustained damages less than $5,000, but because of the number of homes damaged, the total cost is mounting.


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