Apparent firebombing destroys travel agency

FBI, fire marshal investigate cause of fire

By Glenna Milberg - Reporter

CORAL GABLES, Fla. - A state fire marshal K-9 alerted almost immediately to the presence of an accelerant inside a travel agency destroyed by fire Friday morning.

The fire occurred at Airline Brokers at 815 Ponce De Leon Blvd. at about 3 a.m. The business is a travel agency that plans trips to Cuba.

"It's not that it's burned. It's pulverized," said owner Vivian Mannerud. "All I know is that I have never seen a fire do pulverize things. I've seen it in pictures of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima."

Though investigators had not discussed the details of the fire with Mannerud, she is convinced someone targeted her or her agency because of the business she does booking trips to Cuba. The 30-year-old agency has been targeted before, though not recently.

"I just did the big papal visit. That put me in the news a lot, and that's the only other thing that's happening," Mannerud said.

In addition to the fire dog's alert that there was likely accelerant, officials said a brick also had been thrown through the window.

The blaze got very big, very suddenly. It wiped out the first-floor travel agency, where 12 people work. The second and third floors of the building, which contain offices and law firms, were smoky but intact.

"I got a call first from management that there had been a fire, and we don't know when we'd be able to get back into the building," said Alejandra Ramirez, who works in an office at the building.

Police and the fire marshal are standard participants of fire investigations, but the FBI was also at the scene, no doubt to explore the possibility of militant exile political extremism at work.

"There are people that had a lot of torture, a lot of killings back on the island, and they don't appreciate A, the new wave of Cubans that are coming over and the new immigrants that are coming over that just don't have a recollection of what happened to the previous generation," said Ian Martinez, who works in an office at the building.

At first, tenants were told they would likely be back in the building by noon Friday, but as the FBI arrived, it was apparent that would not be the case.

The travel agency was destroyed. The owner said she is still working, still booking flights from her cellphone outside the building.

Officials have not commented on the cause of the fire.

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