Berkeley police apprehended a homeless man just after 6 a.m. Sunday—after he had set at least six blazes in the Telegraph Avenue area south of the UC Berkeley campus.
The blazes did an estimated $70,000 in damage, said Deputy Fire Chief David P. Orth.
Berkeley Police spokesperson Ed Galvan said the suspect “is presently being held for a psychiatric evaluation” and might not be criminally charged because of his mental state.
Orth said the first fire was reported at 4:25 a.m. in a trash bin at 2508 Benvenue Ave. Firefighters arrived to find a neighbor dowsing the flames with a garden hose. They made short work of what was left.
The next call was at 4:43 a.m. summoning engines to the rear of the Reprint Mint, a Telegraph Avenue shop specializing in reprinted artworks and posters.
Firefighters found a dumpster at the rear of the four-story apartment-over-commercial building at 2448 Dwight Way fully in flames, and the fire had spread to the interior of the art business, causing an estimated $25,000 in structural damage and another $20,000 in damage to the building’s contents.
Emergency workers had a brief respite before they were summoned back to another dumpster on Benvenue Avenue, this one at 2501. The blaze was quickly contained without any damage to nearby buildings.
The next call came 15 minutes later and brought crews back to Dwight Way—2709 this time—where another trash fire had spread to the adjacent building, causing an estimated $25,000 in property damage, said Orth.
As firefighters were battling that blaze, they spotted another, smaller fire in a nearby parking structure, which was knocked down with a fire extinguisher.
Berkeley police made the next call, after finding a fellow standing near a burning plastic fire at 2636 Telegraph Ave. at 6:11 a.m.
“He told them he was using the fire for heat,” said Orth.
Though the admitted arsonist was already in custody, there was one more report of a fire that came in nine minutes after police spotted the igniter.
UC Berkeley police knocked out that blaze—another torched dumpster—with a fire extinguisher, Orth said.
West Berkeley blaze
Firefighters rushed to 2417 Sixth St. at 2:49 a.m. Saturday after tenants in an upper unit in a three-story apartment building reported heavy smoke in their unit.
Crews quickly established that the fire came from the apartment below, where the tenant had forgotten about a pan left cooking on the stove top, Orth said.
The flames had spread in cabinets and the walls, inflicting an estimated $70,000 in damage to the structure and $5,000 in property losses.