Witness spots suspicious man in fire

January 5, 2009 3:25:25 PM PST
A late night fire at a southwest Houston apartment complex may have been intentionally started. It's just one of more than a dozen fires in the same area, and there are also questions about whether or not the same serial arsonist is to blame. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

The flames at Azalea Place apartments on Bissonnet near Renwick may be out, but for resident Rita Babin, something about Sunday night's fire still burns in her mind.

She said, "It was very suspicious that, you know, he comes out of the house... I would have took off running. If my house is on fire, your first notion is to run."

The fire broke out around 10pm inside an upstairs apartment. Babin was inside her unit, two doors down, when she spotted the flames. As she called 911, something suddenly caught her attention.

"I saw a young Hispanic guy coming out the door when I first saw it," Babin recalled. "The window was all orange. He threw something through the window. I told him, 'Vamanos!' I seen the flame made a u-turn."

Although investigators have not confirmed that the fire was arson, they say Babin's story is raising suspicions. Since May 2008, there have been more than 20 arson fires in the general area. Investigators say initially they started as car fires, escalating to occupied buildings. Just last month, in one of those fires, a pregnant woman had to jump out of her second story apartment to escape the flames.

"The danger factor is starting to increase," said Houston Fire Department Exec. Asst. Chief Rick Flanagan. "That really concerns us. We don't want to get anyone hurt."

Fortunately, in Sunday night's blaze, no one was injured. Only two of the apartment units suffered any considerable damage.

Still, for Babin, knowing that the fires are happening around her doesn't make it easy to sleep at night.

"You never know when it's going to come to your home," she said. "You never know when you're going to lose everything."

Investigators say they have been trying to track down that man who allegedly ran away from the apartment. They say they have not had any luck. If you have any information about this case or any of the fires in the area, you're asked to call the Houston Fire Department's arson division at 713-865-7100. You can also call the Crime Stoppers Tip Line at 713-222-TIPS or log on to www.crime-stoppers.org to report that information. You will remain anonymous and could be eligible for a cash reward.

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