ST. PAUL, Ind. — Neighbors in the small town of St. Paul fear they may have a fire starter on the loose.
Residents say there have been four fires in town over eight days. The population of St. Paul is a little over 1,000.
The fires struck a vacant home being renovated, a car, a garage, and a fence, according to neighbors. Town officials say the fence fire was not called into the St. Paul Volunteer Fire Department, while other neighbors say it was minor and unintentional.
Brandon Jones came home from work to see the renovated house light up. He says the home has been vacant for roughly 20 years, but people had just put in new windows as part of a renovation project on the home.
“I ran down there, and I realized the porch was actually on fire. There was a worker inside, up in the back, when it caught on fire," Jones says. “Just started yelling for him to get out of the house. As soon as the front windows blew out, it just engulfed the entire house.”
Jones says the worker made it out as the St. Paul Volunteer Fire Department began working the flames and evacuating other homeowners. At one point, Jones even picked up a fire hose and started fighting the fire in his hospital work scrubs. Neighbors captured him on video assisting.
The Indiana State Fire Marshal is taking over the investigation. They are not saying if the fires are connected or if they are investigating the fires as arson, however, they are offering up to a $5,000 reward to anyone with information that leads to an arrest. Neighbors believe there are too many fires, too close together to be coincidence.
“So far, it seems to be places that no actual people are living in," said Kelly Weeks, whose garage burned down in the rash of fires. “At first, [the State Fire Marshal] started telling us it was because that wire had a part that was hanging down and was rubbing against the garage, and they found that somebody had messed with our electrical box.”
Weeks and her family have only lived in the home for three months. They say the electrical box was closed and tagged when they moved in, but it wasn't after the fire. They had yet to get renters insurance after moving to town from an Indianapolis suburb.
“Both my husband and my son had a business out of that garage,“ Weeks said. "Everything they had to do their business with — lawn care and handyman stuff — burned up in the fire."
The State Fire Marshal encourages anyone with information to call the Indiana Arson Hotline at 800-382-4628.