MILWAUKEE -- 31-year-old Jermaine House is now charged with one count of arson for allegedly setting fire to a home at 34th and St. Paul on Milwaukee's west side on Thursday, May 19th. The fire was so intense, smoke could be seen for miles along I-94. House was arrested at the scene -- accused of interfering with firefighters.
According to a criminal complaint, a police officer arrived on the scene to find the residence "totally engulfed in flames." He also reported "House proceeded to run around in circles in the alley adjacent to the house." House also "reported that his wife and five-year-old daughter were still in the residence."
"Very, very rapid efforts were made to search that area from the exterior. Very dangerous for us to do that but the companies did the right thing. They made a real quick push in there they did not find the person in that room," said Milwaukee Fire Department Deputy Chief Aaron Lipski.
With firefighters on scene, the complaint indicates House "attempted to grab the fire hose away from them, telling them that he had to put out the fire himself. On several occasions, House admitted that he started the fire."
"A civilian was standing on their hose line, pulling on their hose line, sticking a metal rod into their hose line -- misdirecting [firefighters] and providing them with misinformation about the number of people, and the possible location of those people, in the home. And it put our firefighters at tremendous risk," said Deputy Chief Lipski.
Cell phone video captured House's erratic behavior as the home burned.
"We tried to contain him a little bit, as a neighbor, but he just wouldn't stop so I just let him go and the police took over from there and grabbed him," Virgil Jones said.
FOX6 News spoke with a family member of House shortly after this fire -- who said they tried to get him help, as he suffers from mental illness.
"If he has an episode or he's not treated, he can be deadly. We even tried a day before this incident to get the police to admit him, or help him. What is it going to take for mentally ill people to be treated right? The whole block to burn down or kids to die? That's really sad," said House's sister-in-law.
Janee Robinson and Dennis Taylor lived in the upstairs of this duplex. They said their neighbor woke them early on Thursday morning.
"First time ever meeting this guy was 2 o'clock in the morning. The first time. Weird, and extremely creepy. Like, 'I'm the king and everyone must die.' He just said he was going to kill us. He said, 'you are going to die today. I'm the landlord. You're getting evicted,'" said Robinson and Taylor.
"At a loss for words...Heartbreaking. Everything is gone," Robinson and Taylor said shortly after this fire.
Robinson and Taylor were preparing for their wedding next month. Her dress, his tux and their rings were inside the burning home.
"It's really going to be hard coming back from all this," Robinson and Taylor said.
Their wedding bands were found unharmed and returned to them at the scene on Thursday by Red Cross officials.
Several people have volunteered to help the couple in the wake of this fire.
Investigators determined the fire was set in at least two locations on the first floor of the building. The complaint says the fire caused approximately $400,000 damage to the structure, and an additional $100,000 damage to the contents of the house.
If convicted on the charge, House faces up to 40 years in prison and $100,000 in fines.