5000 block of Painted Leaf Lane
GOLDEN GATE ESTATES — Another suspicious fire caused minor damage to a home Thursday in Golden Gate Estates. It’s the fifth suspected arson fire since Aug. 7 within a 1.5 mile area near Golden Gate Parkway and Santa Barbara Boulevard.
However, this one was different. It happened during the day, and Kimberly Effert and her 3-year-old daughter Emily Effert were asleep inside the home at 5657 Painted Leaf Lane when the fire began.
“I woke up to coughing and smoke,” Kimberly Effert said. “The whole house was filled with smoke.”
Kimberly Effert said she ran back in the room, grabbed Emily and stormed out the front door, leaving it open as she used a cell phone to dial 911 just after 2 p.m.
Golden Gate and East Naples firefighters responded to the home and its garage, where the fire began and ended.
“Firefighters on the scene found something that was suspicious,” East Naples Fire Spokesman Greg Speers said.
Collier County Sheriff’s Office Arson Task Force officials responded to the home and began searching for clues. The State Fire Marshall’s Office arrived later.
Kimberly Effert said investigators told her they didn’t know if the fire is related to the four vacant home fires that have occurred in the area and are either suspected of being or considered arson cases. Those fires were set at night.
“The people who started the other fires knew what they were doing,” Kimberly Effert said investigators told her. “But this one didn’t.”
Kimberly Effert had just taken her daughter to the doctor, returned to the house she rents with her husband and five children, ate lunch and was napping when the fire began. She said all the doors to the home were locked and her car was in the garage, possibly giving the appearance that no one was inside.
Speers said the home received little damage, with the fire being isolated to the garage. The home is valued at $286,141, according to the Collier County Property Appraiser’s website.
“It’s very concerning,” Kimberly Effert, a school teacher, said of the string of house fires. “Especially having five children.”
Speers said the Sheriff’s Office visited neighbors to the Efferts’ home asking if anyone saw anything suspicious.
“They were going up and down the neighborhood,” Speers said.
The fire Thursday is the third on Painted Leaf Lane, which begins at Santa Barbara Boulevard and dead-ends just east of Interstate 75. Another occurred on Copper Leaf Lane, which runs parallel to Painted Leaf Lane.
Another fire, in a duplex on Santa Barbara, was initially ruled an electrical fire, but investigators subsequently began re-examining it.
In early September, after investigators visited several of the neighborhood homes individually looking for clues, a community meeting was held at the First Baptist Church of Golden Gate.
But investigators have remained tight-lipped, unable to answer many questions posed by residents in fear of jeopardizing the investigations.
On Thursday, residents began gathering around the Efferts’ home, asking what had happened. Even after the fire trucks had left, many already suspected what had occurred.
“Keep an eye out,” Speers told a woman who stopped to ask questions. “It’s broad daylight this time and it was occupied.”