NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Federal investigators are looking into suspicious fires that destroyed the vehicles and New Orleans home of a political operative early Thursday.
ATF agents joined city and state fire examiners probing charred remains at Mario Zervigon's home in the city's Uptown neighborhood. Zervigon and eight people, including his wife and two children, escaped at 2:27 a.m. No injuries were reported but at least three cats died.
Kevin Moran, a special agent of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, tells NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune (http://bit.ly/10upNEy ) that an arson investigator confirmed the fires were deliberately set.
"The origin of the fire is unknown at this time," Moran said. "The lab will work to determine if any accelerant was used and what type. It will be a few weeks before we can say what was found."
Witnesses reported hearing glass breaking moments before two vehicles belonging to Zervigon were seen ablaze. Flames from one parked behind the home, quickly engulfed much of the house and damaged an adjacent property.
Capt. Edwin Holmes, spokesman for the New Orleans Fire Department, said it took 10 responding units to bring the fire under control by 3:05 a.m. One of the 26 firefighters working the blaze had to be hospitalized for possible fatigue and his condition was not disclosed.
Zervigon said he had received no threats and had no idea why his home and property would have been attacked.
"I don't know if anything is connected to anything I do," Zervigon said. "But all I do is simple, basic fundraising and campaign work."
Zervigon is the campaign finance director for Public Service Commission candidate Forest Wright, who this week advanced to a Dec. 6 runoff against incumbent Eric Skrmetta. He also served as finance director and did fundraising work for the successful re-election campaign of Civil District Court Judge Bernadette D'Souza.
The fire displaced eight people from the three apartments contained within the large divided house, a property owned by Zervigon's mother-in-law, Kelcy Patterson.
"Obviously, someone did this," said Katy Patterson, Zervigon's wife. "Somebody came and set both cars on fire. ... Why would you think anything like this would ever happen in New Orleans?"
Zervigon said his family's house and possessions appeared to be a total loss. The only positive, he said, was that all tenants of the house escaped unharmed, but only just.
"The people who live upstairs barely got out of the house," Zervigon said. "I'm still trying to wrap my head around it all.
"I don't know if I was targeted. I don't know what's what. It's just a shock," he said.
Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com