Sheriff's Office Denies Role in Florida Fire

While the debate continued over whether tear gas fired through the window of a Margate apartment building caused a fire that left 100 people homeless, investigators combed through the rubble Monday, seeking answers.

Some residents at Cross Creek Apartments questioned whether tear-gas canisters fired into the building to flush out barricaded gunman Dan Magno started the fire.

The Broward Sheriff's Office, which bought the tear- gas canisters from Defense Technologies/Federal Laboratories of Casper, Wyo., said they couldn't have caused the fire.

''The manufacturer has sold over 8,000 of these devices to law enforcement over the last year,'' BSO spokeswoman Liz Calzadilla-Fiallo said. ''Never, ever have they had a fire. There have been zero incidents.''

When the canisters are fired, the shot produces a flash, but the canister itself does not create sparks, Calzadilla-Fiallo said.

But Tod Burke, a former Maryland police officer and professor of criminal justice at Radford University in Virginia, said it is possible that the tear gas canisters could have sparked the blaze.

''Canisters are like grenades, they can set off sparks when they explode. If they're near something flammable, there's a possibility a fire could occur,'' Burke said.

One type of tear gas BSO that SWAT members used Sunday, the Ferret-37, also was used in the FBI's raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993. The cause of the fire that destroyed the compound is still disputed, but survivors and family members of victims claim that the Ferret tear- gas canisters were a factor.

Margate firefighters, protected by SWAT shields, went in immediately to fight the blaze, Calzadilla-Fiallo said. The fire spread quickly through the 40-year-old building, which did not have firewalls.

Magno later was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Investigators are considering the possibility that he started the blaze.

Witnesses reported seeing smoke billow from Magno's second-floor apartment moments after the last round of tear gas was fired.

More than 20 Cross Creek residents slept on mats Monday night at a Red Cross emergency shelter at Margate's Charley Katz Community Center. Others went to the homes of relatives or friends.

Meanwhile, a disturbing picture emerged of the man who started Sunday's events with a spray of bullets fired into his ex-girlfriend's apartment.

Neighbors say Magno, a security guard at Cross Creek, was an armed man, and he liked other people to know it.

He would brandish his gun to persuade people to move their cars from illegal parking spots, and he used it to scare children at the apartment complex's pool.

His ex-wife said he even brought the gun -- fully loaded -- to a Dolphins game.

''He was nothing without a gun,'' said Wendy Magno, his ex-wife. ''But until Sunday, he seemed like all talk.''

On Sunday, Magno fired 13 shots into the front window of Heidi Rodriguez's apartment. Witnesses said he then coolly walked to his own apartment and barricaded himself inside.

Margate Police and BSO SWAT members tried for several hours to negotiate with him. When that failed, they shot rubber bullets, then canisters of tear gas, into the building.

Moments later, a fire started and tore through half of the building. The roof collapsed, destroying several apartments.

At the Red Cross shelter, several neighbors said Magno was an intimidating figure who marched around the grounds barking orders and threatening children who lived in the complex.

John Autrey, 42, lived with his wife Suzanne, and sons Micheal, 9, and Scott, 12, about four doors away from Magno. The Autreys knew that Magno carried a gun.

''The guy was stern,'' John Autrey said. ''But I just thought that that made him a good security guard.''

On Sunday morning, John Autrey took Micheal out for breakfast. Suzanne and Scott stayed at home. While Scott was taking out the trash, he saw Magno talking angrily on his cellphone.

''I turned around and Dan had a gun in his hand,'' the boy said. ''So I just ran into the house and yelled for my mom.''

Suzanne Autrey called 911 and her husband. A police blockade kept John Autrey from reaching his home, so he waited in his car with his son. He stayed on his cellphone with his wife, who hid with their other son in their living room.

Wendy Magno said her ex-husband had become despondent over the past few months. The two had talked about his split with Rodriguez. ''He told me that she was dating some other guy,'' said Magno. ''That just was too much for him.''

Three weeks ago, Wendy Magno decided it was best to halt their kids' weekend visits. 'The last time, my girls came home saying, 'There's something wrong with Daddy.' ''

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