Authorities are investigating a fire Friday in a Coral Gables office building that specializes in plane charters to Cuba.
The fire blackened the exterior of Airline Brokers Company Inc., located on the first floor of 815 Ponce de Leon. The company, which has operated for almost 30 years, charters seven flights to Cuba each week, primarily out of Miami International Airport. It had just transported hundreds of South Florida Catholics to see Pope Benedict XVI in Cuba.
A dog with the State Fire Marshals alerted officials to several locations in the building where it smelled an accelerant.
Company owner Vivian Mannerud confirmed to NBC 6 that State Fire Marshals and the FBI are investigating. Although the cause is unclear, she speculated it is related to the controversy surrounding the international flights.
“I got a call that it was a fully engulfed fire, and I immediately knew in my mind what it was,” she said. “It was an instinct. If you look in there…it has been pulverized. It’s not just a fire.”
Some Cuban exiles in Miami are against those who advocate for trips to the country, saying that the money visitors spend in Cuba supports the Castro regime.
“It all seems to be leading that way, but I can’t say that is it right now,” Mannerud said.
She doesn't believe the investigation will lead to arrests.
"Nothing is going to happen to whoever did this," she said. "Nothing because that has never happened in 32 years of business. I have seen this happen to other people. No one has gone to jail, or on the contrary, we name street names after them."