Pair of local fires ruled suspicious

MANATEE — Two fires were set less than an hour apart Thursday night to vacant structures in Bayshore Gardens, according to authorities.

The two fires, which have been ruled as suspicious in nature, are being investigated by the state fire marshal’s office, said Cedar Hammock Fire Rescue Fire Marshal Jeff Hoyle.

The first fire destroyed a shed behind a residence in the 900 block of Georgetown Road at about 7:30 p.m. There was no power turned on in the shed, officials said.

“We don’t see any reason for the fire to have started on its own,” Hoyle said.

The second fire broke out in a utility room in the 2100 block of Emory Avenue while firefighters were still on scene at the Georgetown Road fire, he said.

Smoke and flames could be seen as the fire moved from the utility room and into the attic of a vacant residence with a “For Rent” sign posted out front.

The same neighborhood has had two other similar fires in the past six months, Hoyle said.

Three of the four fires were to vacant structures, he said.

It’s still unclear how Thursday’s fires started or whether they are related. The incidents remain under investigation.

Authorities questioned a person of interest in the 6200 block of Columbia Drive shortly after the second fire was extinguished, but did not detain anyone.

Firefighters worked to ventilate the utility room at the residence on Emory Avenue and examined the damage behind yellow crime scene tape. A few neighbors watched from the street. One man, who declined to be named, said he moved to the area about five years ago. In the past year, he said there has been an increase of break-ins, car vandalism and, now, fires.

“It’s not the neighborhood we moved to,” he said.

Anyone with information about the fires can contact the Division of State Fire Marshal’s Office at the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations at (877) NO-ARSON or (877) 662-7766. Tips can also be submitted to Crime Stoppers at (866) 634-TIPS (8477).