Arson suspected in Sarasota Co. wildfires

- Forestry officials say they believe dozens of fires in North Port and Port Charlotte were set by arsonists.

Wildfire Mitigation Specialist for the Myakka River District and the Florida Forest Service, Patrick Mahoney said these fires have been purposely set, up and down Orlando Boulevard. 

They stretch from Charlotte County into North Port. 

"Sunday we had 13 fires pop up, Monday we had five, and Tuesday we had one," said Mahoney. 

There's been a lot more over the last few weeks; 52 fires have burned 83 acres and the Florida Forest Service says 47 of those fires are considered suspicious.

"They are popping up at clumps during certain times of the day usually after three. We don't know if it's a kid. We don't know if it's someone getting off work. We just don't know," he said. 

Mahoney said, so far they've been lucky. The fires haven't spread to homes or the interstate, but as Florida's active wildfire season approaches, their concern grows. 

"From point a to point b this person put a lot of lives at risk. A lot of innocent lives at risk," said Mahoney. 

As forestry officials work with law enforcement to catch the arsonist, neighbors said they're keeping their eyes wide open. 

Sean O'Leary takes daily walks in the area. One day he noticed a charred spot. At first, he didn't think twice.

"This is the time of the year and I figured [it was a] brush fire," he said. 

As days passed, he spotted more unnerving signs. 

"I noticed the area directly over here had been added. Now it becomes unsettling," said O'Leary. 

Then he spotted a red sign, warning about an arsonist. 

"Does that person get more brazen or persons and I have a little bit of woods by my house is that going to be the next target?" O'Leary said."I keep my eyes vigilant. I walk this area all the time and we are out in our neighborhood as well. Our neighbors are out and about. We will be looking. That's for sure."

A $5,000 reward is being offered for any information leading to an arrest. Call the Florida Division of Forestry at 1-800-342-5869. You can remain anonymous. 

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