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Abandoned buildings targeted in series of suspected arson cases

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Posted at 10:04 PM, Apr 20, 2014
and last updated 2014-04-21 00:08:51-04

PROVO, Utah -- For seven years or so, a row of aging uninhabitable duplexes have stood along 4800 North at the intersection of University Avenue.

They're conspicuously odd in an otherwise tidy part of town with the Shops at Riverwood directly across the road to the north.

Behind the duplexes and accessible from a small side road are a pair of brick houses which appear to be structurally sound, but they're also boarded up. An old fruit shed and a few other small structures dot the landscape as well. In all, there are (or were) about 15 vacant structures bordering one another.

In the past month, six of those structures have burned. Some to the ground, others damaged but still standing.

Provo Fire Marshall Lynn Schofield said all six fires (which happened on three different dates) are cases of arson. He tells FOX 13 News that physical evidence has been collected at each scene.

"We're very confident that this is the same person or persons," he said.

The most recent fire was reported at 3:48 a.m. Saturday.

"My daughter came running up, said she heard something loud, looked outside and saw this fire with flames about 75 feet in the air," Tim Collins told FOX 13 News.

Collins' home is surrounded on three sides by vacant properties, and he said his home has been a target for vandals passing through the area.

His neighbor, Jim Ohran, said the neighborhood began deteriorating drastically about seven years ago as developers began a long tussle over who could buy the largest portion of properties for future redevelopment opportunities.

Ohran said he and other neighbors have spoken with Mayor John Curtis in the past, long before the fires began, and were assured the property would be cleaned up or redeveloped. But as Ohran says, "We don't seem to be high on the list right now."

Schofield said that Provo City is in the process of taking legal action as a result of the recent fires. He said last week Provo asked a judge to declare the buildings a hazard, which would allow the city to destroy them. The judge did not rule in the city's favor, but the city will try again on April 30, with more proof of arson.

In the mean time, Schofield said he's still seeking the identity of an arsonist.

"The reality is: Somebody knows about this," he said. "People who do this tend to brag, other people know about it. We'd really like to catch this person, give them the opportunity to be accountable for it before someone gets hurt."