LAKE COUNTY, Fla. - Lake County Fire Chief Jim Dickerson slept with his radio near him Monday night, hoping he wouldn't wake up to yet another arson call after five fires in a 48-hours span were reported in Umatilla and Altoona over the weekend.
"I was thinking last night that I was going to hear something and fortunately we didn't," Dickerson said Tuesday morning.
The chief offered new clues on the investigation trying to determine if they are related. He said an arson task force will be created with the local fire department, Lake County Sheriff's Office and the State Fire Marshal's Office to find similarities.
"It's very alarming," Dickerson said.
Especially after he said the latest fire, on Wilson Parrish Road was set with a person sleeping inside. According to a GoFundMe page created by a friend of the couple, their 15-year-old son was inside sleeping.
The chief believes in that case, there were two fires intentionally set.
"They found two different areas of origin of that, one was in the vehicle that was in the garage, the other was in the clothes hamper on the opposite side of the building," he said, adding that clothes hamper was inside the house.
Fifteen minutes before the Wilson Parrish Road home caught fire, Chase Norris just a few miles away, said he awoke to the sound of his alarm on his truck, which was parked inside a pole barn he had just built behind his Saltsdale Road home.
"I woke up to the alarm going off on the truck and looked out the back window and it was on fire," Norris said.
He said because the Wilson Parrish home was also on fire, it took some time before firefighters responded, but together they were able to save his boat. However, his truck and the pole barn are destroyed.
"We are going to have to tear it down and rebuild it," Norris said.
He's thankful the fire wasn't in his home, where he, his wife and two young children were sleeping. He said they are now terrified the arsonist will strike again.
"My kids and my wife are very worried," Norris said. "Just that somebody is going to come back and light something else on fire, you know, anytime."
The only the clue the fire chief says they have right now is surveillance video taken at Old Crow BBQ which shows someone wrapping something up and walking out a second before a fiery glow becomes visible.
Because of the fear that has struck this small Lake County community, the chief is asking for people to be on alert and call 1-877-NO-ARSON if they have any tips.
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