BRADENTON — Audrey Hardy watched in the middle of the night as fire ripped through a neighbor’s house in the Manatee Ponds neighborhood where she knew three young children lived.
After firefighters put out the blaze, investigators found three Molotov cocktails in the home, one of which had exploded, said Bradenton Police Lt. Warren Merriman. The explosion caused a man and woman and three children to evacuate the home. No one was injured.
“There were babies in there. I just can’t believe someone would do that,” Hardy said Monday in disbelief. “The flames just kept getting bigger and bigger.”
The fire caused an estimated $100,000 damage to the home.
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Firefighters and police were called to the 3:35 a.m. fire at 1419 17th St. Cir. E. and arrived to find “flames shooting out from a rear window,” according to a Bradenton Police Department report.
The couple, who rent the home, reported hearing a “loud pop from a closed window, then noticed the fire,” the police report stated.
A man and woman, both 26, and three children, ages 2, 3 and 12, all had to be evacuated. The American Red Cross assisted with lodging, food and clothing.
The fire is under investigation by police and city fire officials as well as the State Fire Marshal’s office. Bradenton Fire Department Deputy Chief Charles Edwards said the occupants of the home are not considered to be suspects in the fire.
Fire officials placed a poster on the front of the home declaring the fire to be an arson and asking for any witnesses to come forward with information.
So far, there are no witnesses, leads are few and no arrests have been made, according to Merriman.
“We have very little to go on,” he said.
The victims could not be reached for comment, but their landlord said they will be placed in another home in the Manatee Ponds subdivision.
“They are very down as anyone would be when you lose all you have,” said landlord Debbie Washington. “But I keep telling them everything will be OK.”
Anyone with information on the fire is asked to call the state’s arson tip line at 1-877-662-7766, Bradenton Police Department at (941) 932-9300, or Crimestoppers at (866) 634-TIPS.