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Police searching for person of interest in apartment arson


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SALT LAKE CITY -- Investigators are still looking for whoever lit a Salt Lake apartment building on fire Thursday morning.

They say a man lit a couch on fire, causing the apartment building to go up in flames and forcing several residents to climb out of their window to safety.

"I was sleeping and somebody yelled, ‘Fire!' I tried to go out my door and the whole upstairs was full of smoke, and I couldn't see anything," said resident David Dillon.

Just after midnight, smoke and flames forced several residents out of their Westgate apartment building near 300 South and 1500 West in Salt Lake. Apparently, someone lit a couch on fire on the first floor of the building. It was propped up against a door, trapping a mother, her 3-year-old son and four other people inside.

The fire soon spread to the doorway of the apartment and the nearby stairway. It also melted the building's siding and sent thick smoke into the surrounding apartments.

"It was just wall-to-wall smoke. You couldn't see anything. People upstairs couldn't get out because it was just loaded with smoke," Dillon said.

Everyone inside made it out without any injuries, but some had to use windows to exit in time.

Now at least one apartment is ruined; the others have smoke and water damage.

Frank Cachon is the maintenance tech for the complex. He came first thing Thursday morning to clean up and assess the damage.

"I don't want people to get hurt or for it to fall on anybody," Cachon said. "We have a lot of kids here, so I am going to take it down as soon as possible."

He continued, "Our focus is going to be to fix it and get everything back to normal."

But residents say it will be a while before they feel back to normal, especially with an arsonist still out there.

Investigators believe their person of interest is an acquaintance of the woman who lives in the targeted apartment, but they're not releasing his name. They say he was involved in an argument there last night and got angry when he was asked to leave. A short time later the building went up in flames, which neighbors say put everyone at risk.

"I hope the cops catch him, because you've got a lot of people here now that are going to think twice about wanting to sleep," Dillon said.

One resident said the man in question is someone who also stays at the Road Home shelter downtown. But fire investigators say the person they're looking for is someone they just want to talk to. They say there are no witnesses that confirm he is in fact the person who started the fire.

Investigators say whoever is responsible could face multiple counts of aggravated arson.

Meanwhile, the American Red Cross is trying to help the mother and child who lost their home but had a difficult time finding a hotel for the victims because of the holiday weekend.

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Story compiled with contributions from Nicole Gonzales, Shara Park and Randall Jeppesen

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