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Task force to investigate string of 29 arsons in central Florida

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO Fla. (Reuters) - A string of 29 arson fires targeting historic buildings across central Florida prompted investigators on Friday to form a multi-agency task force to share clues.

The fires that began in early June were all set in historic neighborhoods, targeting vacant homes or structures with crawl spaces underneath, authorities said. At each crime scene, no evidence was found that accelerant was used to spread the fire.

“We can’t officially connect them yet. However, many of them have very similar characteristics,” said Matthew Negedly, district chief of the Orlando Fire Department.

The task force brings together investigators from several local municipalities, as well as state fire and law enforcement authorities.

Most of the 16 fires in Orlando, which began on June 5, were set in homes in older residential neighborhoods around the downtown area.

About 30 minutes to the north in Sanford, the first of 10 similar fires on July 3 destroyed the Little Red School House, a century-old public school building.

Three more homes were torched this week in Daytona Beach, about an hour northeast of Orlando, according to the Orlando Police Department.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, also the state's chief fire marshal, announced on Thursday that investigators were looking for Sanford resident Steven Wayne Angle, 40, for questioning.

Angle's half-brother, Curtis Smith, 34, was charged with attempted murder and first degree arson in a separate and unrelated house fire in Sanford last week, investigators said.

A man was sleeping in the house when the fire was started, they said.

A lawyer for Smith could not immediately be reached.

Late Friday, state officials were also investigating as a possible arson an early morning fire that destroyed a 1920 wood oceanfront home in Ormond Beach, which was vacant while the owner was away, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

(Editing by Letitia Stein)

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