Flash: Two More Arson Fires Hit Berkeley

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Tuesday July 27, 2010 - 10:37:00 PM

Berkeley was hit by two more arsons overnight, a week after police arrested a man whom they believe could be responsible for a string of nine recent fires in the South Campus area of the city. 

Berkeley police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said officers responded to a report of a debris fire at 2915 Telegraph Avenue, near Russell Street, at about 11:07 p.m. Monday. 

She said a large, blue city of Berkeley recycling bin full of paper was on fire in front of the reported address and had been burned half-way to the ground. 

Kusmiss said the bin had been full of shredded paper but the Berkeley Fire Department was unable to determine the cause of the fire. No suspects or witnesses were located, and the fire was classified as suspicious, she said. 

Then at about 2 a.m. today, a taxi cab driver flagged down a patrol officer to report a garbage can on fire in the 2900 block of Telegraph Avenue, near Ashby Avenue, Kusmiss said. 

The officer found a city of Berkeley recycling bin in flames, and three people who were in the area were stopped and detained nearby at the intersection of Ashby Avenue and Wheeler Street, but they weren't arrested, she said.  

Kusmiss said the three people were cooperative and didn't smell of smoke, but police took their names and haven't ruled them out as suspects. 

Last Tuesday, police arrested 25-year-old Travis Churchill of Berkeley for allegedly setting a fire in a recycling bin in front of Sam's Market at 2312 Telegraph Ave. A passerby reported the fire at about 3:50 a.m. that day. 

Churchill was charged with one count of arson is being held in custody in lieu of $50,000 bail. 

Berkeley police said last week that detectives believe there was "a definitive link" between the Sam's Market arson and eight other recent suspicious fires in the area, but at this point Churchill has only been charged in connection with the Sam's Market fire. 

Kusmiss said today that there had not been any more suspicious fires or arsons since Churchill was arrested until the two overnight fires, which she said "came as a surprise." 

She said the two overnight fires share the same method of operating as the previous series of fires from July 16 to July 20. 

The new fires are out of the immediate geographic area of the previous series, but detectives haven't ruled out the possibility that there were other suspects in the original series or that there might be copycat suspects, Kusmiss said. 

No one has been injured in any of the fires, but Kusmiss said police are concerned because many of the fires have been next to vehicles and businesses. 

"A structure fire in the early morning hours when people are sleeping could potentially cause a tragic situation," she said. 

She said anyone who witnessed or was in the area of any of the fires and might have seen a suspicious individual or individuals should call the Berkeley Police Department's property crimes unit at (510) 981-5737 or its non-emergency line at (510) 981-5900.