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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) — The FOX 8 I-TEAM has uncovered the story behind raging fires that erupted downtown during riots last weekend, and a witness is now opening up about what she saw just before the fires.

Flames shot out of police cars and other vehicles, and at times the smoke became so thick you could barely see.

Ariane Kirkpatrick got caught in the chaos as violence erupted during a peaceful protest sparked by the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minnesota.

Just before the trouble, Kirkpatrick saw a man and a woman up to no good, possibly ready to start fires.

“He started taking things out of a bag, looking very suspicious, and he pulled out a container of oil or gas,” Kirkpatrick said. “He had another person standing guard.”

She said she saw a police prisoner van. She went over and tried to get help. But no law enforcement officers made it to where the suspicious people had been seen. They disappeared into the crowd.

“I was like, ‘Dude, there’s trouble across the street. They’re making explosives.’ I’m telling you I witnessed it,” Kirkpatrick added.

That witness took pictures. Friends forwarded them to police. And the I-TEAM has found Cleveland Police and federal agents are both investigating how these fires started and who’s to blame.

The I-TEAM also learned more about a man arrested the day after the riots. Police say he had a dangerous device for starting a fire and causing damage. They stopped him in a car after trying to get into downtown on a ramp that had been closed. That case has been turned over to the feds.

A report shows the man had a “large bottle” of a flammable liquid with a “wick” and a “lighter.”

In the meantime, we went to T.J. Martin with the Parma Fire Department. He’s not involved in these investigations, but he knows from experience cars don’t usually burn the way they did on Saturday without help. But car fires can get intense.

“You really don’t see vehicles that fully involved for that long of a time,” Martin said.
“Plastics, foam rubber, rubber, there’s a lot of fuel inside of a car. So, once it starts burning, there’s a lot of fuel.”

The rioting left Ariane Kirkpatrick disgusted.

“A protest was about justice, and they just hijacked it. Took away the cause,” she said.

Cleveland Police say the fires remain under investigation. No one has been arrested for arson.

These kinds of cases often require scientific testing of evidence.