Patrols stepped up in Seminole Co. with possible arsonist on the loose

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SANFORD, Fla. —

The State Fire Marshal’s Office is trying to figure out how a group of homes and a historic school house in Sanford caught fire early Thursday.

All of the fires happened within 5 miles of each other.

A fire rescue dog detected an accelerant that may have been used to start the fires, officials said.   

“It’s all just little things that lead to another, and it’s a puzzle. You just have to take one piece and work to the next one,” said Lt. Paul Paterson, a state fire marshal's office spokesperson.

Officials said the first school in Sanford, also known as the Little Red School House, was destroyed in the blaze on 6th Street and Palmetto Avenue at about 2 a.m. Thursday.

Authorities said they believe it may have been an act of arson.

What was left of the small school house, which was built in the 1880s, was demolished later in the afternoon.

"It's like a piece of you disappeared," said Sanford resident Kim Jernigan. "It's a part of history that is gone forever."

Many residents said it was unthinkable that someone could burn it down.

“All of the good things we had in that building. All of the good things we learned about community and about self-confidence. I was just moved to tears,” said Sanford resident Maya Nathan.

The Little Red School House was a performing arts school when Nathan moved to Sanford as a child.

“It’s very disturbing and it’s very alarming,” she said. “I’m hopeful that whoever it is will be caught and brought to justice.”

The city had been trying to sell the Little Red School House for months.

“I don’t know what their motive (was) besides getting rid of the blight. There are other places you could burn down besides this one,” said witness Matt Lemaster.

The second fire happened on 20th Street and Maple Avenue at a home about a mile away from the school house scene, said officials. Authorities said the owner had turned on the electricity Wednesday, not knowing that a squatter was living there. Fire crews said it may have been an electrical fire.

The third fire sparked just moments later at the Carriage Trove trailer park, about 4 1/2 miles away from the house fire, officials said.

A fourth fire happened at about 6 a.m. Thursday at a home on Hester Avenue near State Road 427.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office believes an arsonist set two other Seminole County homes on fire on Monday, so officials are working to figure out if they are connected.

“We are just now seeing any reason that they should have been accidental,” Paterson, said.

Monday's fires were in vacant buildings a couple blocks away from each other.

Investigators are also comparing other arsons that happened in Orlando this summer.

Sanford police and Seminole County deputies said they are stepping up patrols to make sure everyone is safe, especially ahead of the holiday weekend.

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