South Memphis arsons raise spector of vigilante justice

Arson, arson and arson again. Abandoned and vacant homes have been destroyed, boarded up and shut down, taking out would be havens of crime. Now, some are suggesting the different cases may be instances of vigilante justice.

"I think it needs to be torn down to keep the people from staying in it," said resident Suzie Houston.

Houston hates to see the abandoned and vacant homes in her neighborhood, where she's lived 38 years. She says the houses attract crime, but insists setting fires to the problem isn't any better.

"What do you think of the idea of someone taking justice in their own hands and starting them on fire so they could be torn down? I think that's awful," she answered.

Memphis firefighters agree. They've had to battle some 70 blazes intentionally set in a few short months.

All of them involved vacant and abandoned homes torched around South Memphis. It's something investigators can't recall ever happening.

"I haven't seen that it's an extraordinary situation it has taxed our resources to some extent," said Lt. Keith Staples with the Memphis Fire Department.

Memphis firefighters won't say if it's one person's way to clean up the neighborhood, but they admit it's a possibility.

"We're looking at all scenarios. we're not ruling anything out," said Staples.

Neighbors hope answers come fast. "They don't know who it is. They don't know that. They don't know what's happening to them," said Houston.

Firefighters must now just stop the fire-starter before he or she strikes again.

No one has been hurt in any of these fires. Whether it's vigilante justice or not, investigators say arson is a felony. The rest can be explained to a judge.

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