A Fort Atkinson man suspected of starting a Janesville house on fire early Thursday morning with a Molotov cocktail has been arrested on a charge of arson and five counts of attempted first-degree intentional homicide.
Jacob M. Piper, 30, was arrested Thursday evening, said Janesville police Lt. Charles Aagaard, head of detectives.
A man who lived in the home at 220 S. Franklin St. told The Gazette he had met Piper the day before during a gathering at the home.
Shortly before 6 a.m. Thursday, people in the house saw Piper throw a jar containing liquid and a burning wick against the east porch of the duplex, Aagaard said.
Piper used a “small container with a liquid accelerant” to start the fire. “Two people that we spoke with know him and witnessed him walking up to the house with this object,” Aagaard said.
The man who lived in the duplex told The Gazette the flames were at the front door, so he, his girlfriend and his girlfriend’s 8-year-old daughter had to jump from the second-floor balcony.
He jumped first and then called up for the 8-year-old.
“I told her she had to come down because the house was on fire. I kept yelling the house was on fire. I told her mom she had to drop her. We got to work fast. She dropped her, and I caught her; we all was OK,” the man said.
He spoke to The Gazette on the condition that his name not be published.
He said they lost everything in the fire and that the Red Cross gave them a voucher for a hotel room.
“We lost every single thing I own,” he said. “I’m just happy we’re all out of there with our lives and everybody was happy, I mean OK, and I’m happy for that.
“Everything that I lost, it was some valuables, but it can be replaced except the memories, you know?”
They had lived in the apartment for about three months.
Firefighters were dispatched at 5:47 a.m. Thursday. Damage to the building and contents is estimated at $150,000, and the building is considered a total loss.
Five people—two in one unit and three in another—all safely evacuated the building.
Aagaard said some of the people who lived in the house know Piper, but the motive for the arson is not clear.
“Just acquaintances. It appears that they had been together earlier in the evening or the day before. Just acquaintances. We’re not sure what the nexus was there, so we’re still trying to determine that,” Aagaard said.
The Red Cross is assisting three people from the duplex, and the others are staying with family, according to a fire department news release.
When asked why police believe five counts of attempted first-degree intentional homicide are appropriate, Aagaard said: “We’re looking at five people inside a structure, and you throw a lit object at what would be the most common point of egress, and there’s people inside, you would expect that because of the time of day there would be people inside. So we’ll see how it ends up being charged.”
Piper was being held at the Rock County Jail pending his initial court appearance.