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Arson Suspected in String of Berkeley Fires

By Bay City News
Tuesday July 20, 2010 - 12:47:00 PM

Police and fire officials are investigating a string of 13 arson fires on and near the University of California at Berkeley campus, police said.  

The most recent fire was reported about 3:50 a.m. today in front of Sam's Market at 2312 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said. Police are obtaining surveillance video footage captured by a camera in front of the market. Ten fires have occurred in the city's jurisdiction south of the campus and three others have burned on campus, Kusmiss said.  

The first two fires were reported Friday. Most of the small blazes were set by lighting cardboard and paper on fire inside recycling bins, Kusmiss said. There is no indication an accelerant was used to start any of the fires. 

"The M.O. has been predominantly the suspect or suspects lighting the contents of a city of Berkeley recycle bin and then shoving it either against a car...or against a building," Kusmiss said. The blazes have not resulted in any injuries but all have caused property damage, Kusmiss said. Two cars and one scooter were seriously damaged and a portable bathroom was found "fully engulfed," Kusmiss said.  

An exterior stucco wall at 2398 Bancroft Way was charred, Kusmiss said. At least two of the fires were put out by a responding police officer using a fire extinguisher or nearby hose. "But our greatest concern is, if a structure were to catch on fire as a result of the suspect or suspects, a community member could be injured," Kusmiss added. 

Anyone who witnessed any of the fires or saw something suspicious, such as a person videotaping or photographing a fire or hiding nearby, is asked to call police. 

"In our experience, arsonists or people who set malicious fires like to watch their work. They get a certain thrill out of watching the flames and watching the emergency response," Kusmiss said. The public can provide tips by calling (510) 981-5900. If calling from a cell phone, dial (510) 981-5911.