A Waterloo man is charged with setting five separate fires around the city early Thursday in abandoned homes and former businesses.

Waterloo Police Chief Dan Trelka says an off-duty police officer was the key to breaking the multiple-arsons case. Officer Enes Mrzljak had just finished a shift working security at a hospital, saw the fire and called it in. Then, driving around in his personal vehicle, he spotted a suspected walking around who was acting suspicious.

The chief says Mrzljak was vigilant in identifying the alleged arsonist. He reported what he’d seen to on-duty officers who responded, brought the suspect in, questioned him and landed a full confession. That suspect, 37-year-old Justin Silos, is now jailed on five arson charges and one count of public intoxication.

Police say Silos admitted drinking alcohol and taking Xanax, he was carrying a lighter and a can of lighter fluid was found a few feet from where he was picked up. No one was injured in any of the fires, which pleased Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart.

“We have one of the best fire services in the entire state of Iowa,” Mayor Hart says. “Today is a way that not only we can talk about that and to ensure our public that we are able to keep our streets safe.” Waterloo firefighters responded to the five fires in rapid succession and Fire Chief Pat Treloar credits his firefighters for navigating through a hectic night.

“We’re extremely pleased with our response times and the way our crews operated in a safe manner,” Treloar says. “We were able to extinguish the fires as best we could and more importantly, we were able to protect exposures.” Silos has already made an initial court appearance and is being held in the Black Hawk County Jail. His motive is still unclear.

(By Scott Fenzloff, KCNZ, Cedar Falls)