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Milwaukee man charged with setting apartment on fire that displaced 64

By Justin Thompson-Gee

    Milwaukee, WI (WDJT)/CNN) -- A Milwaukee man accused of setting an apartment on fire last weekend has now been charged.

Milwaukee firefighters were called to the 20-unit apartment building just after 3 a.m. last Sunday but the fire extinguished itself. Fire officials told police a doormat was set on fire outside an apartment in the building.

A woman inside the apartment told police she was in a relationship with 31-year-old Timothy Jenkins but they broke up a week before. Jenkins came to the door saying he was sorry and wanted to come in. The woman talked with Jenkins but didn't let him in the apartment. She said he was knocking at the door for about 20 minutes and then she didn't hear him. The fire alarm went off a few minutes later.

When the woman opened up her door she saw that her doormat was on fire and stomped it out.

According to the criminal complaint, while police officers were inside talking with the woman Jenkins returned and started pouring something from a red can commonly used for gasoline up and down the second story hallway. He then let the fluid causing a fireball that led to the entire hallway going up in flames.

The officers got the family in the apartment away from the door after flames started coming through the bottom. After officers heard other people on the second floor trying to get out they decided they need to help. One officer burned their hand while leaving the apartment since the door handle was hot from the flames outside.

The smoke was too thick in the hallway for the officers to help anyone and smoke began filling the apartment they were in so they went back inside and told everyone to lie on the floor and called for help. The officers and the family were trapped inside the apartment with no escape.

"Everybody started coming down and they said the third floor was full of smoke and you cannot see," said Ashlie Webster, a tenant who lives in the building with her mother. Ashley and her mom live on the 1st floor and were able to evacuate quickly.

Firefighters arrived shortly after and helped the officers and everyone else on the third floor escape. Milwaukee Fire Department says the officer's quick response helped them fight the fire quickly. If no one had been awake, the flames and smoke could have been deadly.

"There were 64 people living in that building and when you use arson as a weapon or arson as a tool to create chaos with 64 people, most of whom are sleeping, it is only by the hand of god we didn't have many fire deaths in this fire," said Deputy Chief David Votsis.

When officers interviewed Jenkins he original denied setting the fire or being at the apartment at all, but then in a second interview admitted to setting both fires. He said he was upset with the woman in the apartment and felt that he needed to show her he "was not a sucker."

"It's traumatizing. We're still not getting sleep because you're frightened it's going to happen again, and my home don't even feel like home anymore," said Liz Webster.

Webster says she doesn't feel safe or supported at her apartment anymore, and plans to move.

"Our life is in the hands of anyone that wants to destroy this building because they might be into it with someone else and disregard the lives of anyone else.. I don't want to live like this," said Webster.

64 people were temporarily displaced because of the fire but no one, besides the officer, was injured.

Jenkins has been charged with attempted first degree intentional homicide, arson, burglary, and five counts of first degree recklessly endangering safety.

Police report fire alarms saved lives in this instance. People were woken up, they were able to evacuate and call the fire department quickly. if you do not have a working smoke detector, the Milwaukee Fire Department will install one for free for anyone in the city limits. The 24-hour hotline is 286-8980.

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