March 22--COLUMBUS -- Columbus Police suspect an attempt to steal gasoline caused of a fire late Wednesday night that damaged at least eight vehicles parked outside an automotive repair shop.
Police believe that a suspect(s) drilled a hole in a vehicle's gas tank to get at the gas inside, Investigator Jeremy Zywiec said in a statement this morning.
Zywiec said officers have been investigating a handful of similar gas thefts from vehicles in recent weeks.
The 11:24 p.m. fire jumped from vehicle to vehicle parked in a line along a downtown alleyway outside Zegers Automotive, 1259 29th Ave.
Police are urging the public to be observant of individuals underneath vehicles, especially late at night or other times that seem suspicious, Zywiec said.
People with information about the recent gas thefts are asked to call police at 564-3201 or Platte Area Crimestoppers at 563-4000.
Nebraska State Fire Marshal Brad Sloup said Thursday morning that up to 10 vehicles could have been damaged in the fire. Officials needed to inspect the vehicles to get a better damage estimate, but at least four were a total loss.
The business sustained no damage.
Columbus firefighters spent about an hour extinguishing and cleaning up after the blaze Police closed 13th Street for about an hour.
The fire marshal's office and city police are continuing to investigate the cause of the blaze, which was reported in a 911 call by a neighbor. One fire pumper truck responded to the scene.
Fifteen firefighters arrived at the scene to find two vehicles fully engulfed in flames, Lieutenant Dan Janicek said. The vehicles were parked two feet apart and when the fire got going it just skipped from vehicle to vehicle, he said.
The vehicles, parked near the alley between 12th and 13th streets, were awaiting repairs at Zegers.
There were no injuries.
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