UPDATE, Feb. 6: The Gainesville Police Department has determined the fire at a Southwest Villas apartment on Jan. 22 was started intentionally.
According to a press release from GPD spokesman Ben Tobias, “Once the fire was extinguished, investigators immediately noticed the strong smell of gasoline and observed two marine-style gasoline tanks within the apartment. One tank was located in the kitchen and the other was located outside of the bedrooms, and it was clear the fire was intentionally set.”
Investigators also observed a lack of electronic devices, personal effects or clothing left inside the home, which was occupied by residents.
The residents, whose identities are not being released due to the ongoing investigation, likely set the fire with the intention of committing insurance fraud, according to the press release. One resident obtained renter’s insurance valued at over $48,000 11 days before the fire. An insurance claim was filed after the fire.
Two suspects have been charged with grand theft and fraudulent insurance claims.
Authorities are seeking anyone with knowledge of the arson to provide information that will assist in the case. GPD, the Florida State Fire Marshal and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to evidence.
Call Detective Thomas Harrison at 352-393-7681 with any information. Anonymous information can be given to CrimeStoppers at 352-372-7867 or by texting “GPDFL” and your tip to 274637.
Tobias said the 12 people displaced by the fire are still unable to reenter their homes.
An earlier version of this post ran under the headline “12 Residents Seek Shelter After Explosion At Southwest Villas Apartment.”
Original Post: An explosion at a Southwest Villas apartment on Thursday around midnight left 12 people seeking shelter.
Gainesville Fire Rescue District Chief Michael Cowart said the explosion originated from a middle, second-story apartment. It blew out the windows, sending clothing and other household items flying outside. The explosion then caused the apartment to catch fire. Before firefighters arrived, the fire spread to two adjacent apartments.
Firefighters stopped the fire before it spread further. No injuries were reported; however, the 12 residents from the three apartments affected were taken in by the Red Cross and given food and shelter. The total damage was estimated between $200,000 and $300,000.
After hearing the explosion and mistaking the sound for a car striking the building, Liban Jirmo, a resident in the complex, exited his building to investigate and saw the flames.
“I noticed that nobody was out, so I started banging on the doors,” Jirmo said. “I got two old guys out and their roommate.”