Fire investigators release photo of person of interest sought in connection to Phoenix carport fire

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PHOENIX (FOX 10) - Fire investigators have released a photo of a man they are calling a "person of interest" in an arson incident that happened Tuesday morning.

Dozens of firefighters were called to an apartment complex near 15th Avenue and Hazelwood, after a carport burst into flames. Neighbors panicked as they woke up to a smell of smoke and the sight of flames right outside their doors.

"I got out of bed and just saw huge, huge flames," Joelle Aurmani said. "I mean, it almost looked like a tire fire starting, billows of smoke coming up out of the parking structure over here."

Now, a total of 12 cars are completely scorched, leaving most of the victims who live at the complex without a vehicle. Residents at the complex said there was a suspicious man wandering around the complex several days ago. Aurmani said she confronted him and snapped a photo of him before calling police.

"He seemed like he might've been mentally ill or on drugs because he wasn't acting normal," said Aurmani. "I ran up to him and said 'hi, what's your name?' He said, 'Oh, I'm Francis', and I asked him what he was doing."

The man, Aurmani said, told her that he was looking for his keys. However, she believes he may be homeless because she saw him going into a white van parked in the carport, which ended up burning down.

"I think he could've started the fire, possibly, by accident," said Aurmani.

"I'm choosing to believe it was an accident," said Heather Pavlovic. "I think he was living out of it, and something happened."

"Maybe someone was mad at him, and could've started it trying to hurt him," said Aurmani.

Aurmani said she called police on the man earlier in the month, after she witnessed him trying to open car doors parked on the street. He has not been seen around the complex in recent days.

Meanwhile, those who lost their cars in the fire are struggling to move on.

"This is government housing, and unfortunately, people here can't afford to even get a rental car," said Aurmani. "Some people couldn't afford car insurance, and they can't get a car."

People who have seen the person of interest, or have information about him, should call Phoenix Police.