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Date of Issue: December 01, 2005

Unthankful: Five suspicious fires set in Bradenton Beach, Cortez over Thanksgiving weekend

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Five intentionally set fires were discovered in the early hours of the Thanksgiving holiday, including one at the Bradenton Beach Post Office and one at the Cortez Post Office.

No one was injured in any of the blazes, which were relatively minor, but fire officials have said there are commonalities in all of the fires. An investigation is ongoing.

"All of the fires were intentionally set," said West Manatee Fire Marshal Kurt Lathrop, "and there were similarities in all five.

Firefighters responded to the first fire shortly after midnight Thanksgiving Day at the rear loading dock of the Bradenton Beach Post Office on First Street. Bins filled with undeliverable third-class mail - flyers, brochures and other oft-called "junk" mail - had been set aflame.

The fire caused smoke damage to the exterior docking area of the post office and melted several of the plastic bins postal employees use to transport the mail.

"There was no first-class mail involved," Postmaster Charlie Shannon said. "It was a bit scary, but I'm glad no one was here. The post office has an evacuation plan and everyone has had fire emergency training, but you just don't know how people will react when something drastic comes up."

As West Manatee Fire & Rescue firefighters were wrapping up the post office fire, another call came in to the north. A boat on a trailer in the 100 block of Ninth St. N. had burst into flames.

Firefighters from Station No. 2 were able to put out the fire, which destroyed the vessel, and were still on scene when Bradenton Beach Police sped up, informing firefighters that there was another fire next to a house in the 2200 block of Avenue C.

That fire was quickly extinguished as well.

In the morning light, firefighters were called back to the city when yet another blaze next to a building, this time in the 100 block of Highland Avenue, was discovered. Lathrop said that fire burned itself out and caused only minor damage.

The next day, a cleaning woman at the Cortez Post Office on Cortez Road reported evidence of a fire on the outside of the building. Again, no significant damage was evident.

"They were small fires," Battalion Chief Rich Losek said, "not huge. But it's the first time in my 16 years here that we've had this sort of thing."

Fire Marshal Lathrop agreed as to the size of the fires, but not necessarily the severity. "Any time you have four structure fires and a boat fire - it's just lucky they were caught early."

He said that the investigation was continuing among the West Manatee Fire & Rescue District, Bradenton Beach Police, postal investigators and the state fire marshal's office.