E.C. house fire ruled arson
Wednesday, August 8, 2007 12:35 AM CDT
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EAST CHICAGO | A house fire early Tuesday morning in a
northside neighborhood that has been on edge for
months because of gang-related violence was ruled
arson, fire inspectors said.

Flames were confined to the enclosed front porch of
the two-story home at 533 Narva Place, and its
occupants, a brother and sister who shared the house
with her 8-year-old son, escaped without injury.

Fire Inspector Henry Ventura said there was a strong
odor of gasoline around the building at the corner of
Narva and Tod Avenue and scorched areas around the
sides and back where other attempts at ignition had
been made. The fire did not reach the inside of the
house, he said.

"It looked like somebody had opened a window to the
front porch and thrown something in," Ventura said.

First-floor resident Michael Pena told police he heard
something hit the house just after 1:30 a.m. and then
an explosion as the gasoline vapors caught fire.

The house, which is owned by a Merrillville investor,
is across the street from 4206 Tod Ave., the former
residence of Michael Silvas Sr., which was destroyed
in a June 5 fire that also was ruled arson.

Silvas was in the Lake County Jail on weapons charges
stemming from a May 7 gunfight less than two blocks
away in which his grandson, Angel Silvas, was killed.
The home he had lived in burned June 5. Silvas remains
in custody.

The 7-year-old's death sparked weeks of violence, with
bullets fired into at least a dozen homes in the small
neighborhood less than a half-mile north of City Hall
-- including 533 Narva Place.

Police have said they consider the conflict to be
between Latin Kings, the long-dominant crime
organization in the area, and Spanish Vice Lords, a
Chicago outfit that recently has made incursions into
East Chicago.

The most recent shooting on Narva Place -- a single
block composed of 21 homes -- was Friday afternoon,
when at least seven shots were fired at three
neighborhood men standing three doors east of
Tuesday's fire.

The men, ages 19 to 21, told police the driver of a
maroon van flashed gang signs at them and shouted gang
expressions about 5:30 p.m. before opening fire from
the intersection of Narva Place and Railroad Avenue.
One of the three men was detained for questioning
after Angel Silvas' death.

No one was injured by the shots, and no one was in
custody as of Tuesday afternoon, though police did
recover shell casings in the intersection.

Police said no one they spoke with on Narva Place
heard or saw anything before Tuesday morning's fire,
and residents who spoke with the media later in the
day also denied having any information about the
arson.

Michael Pena told police he had no idea who started
the fire, or why anyone would target his house.