Serial arsonists likely hitting Fresno, fire chief says

The Fresno BeeJune 10, 2014 

fire

Firefighters battle a blaze at the old Del Monte packing house at the corner of Tulare and G St. on May 17, 2014. The building was vacant.

MARK CROSSE — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

Fresno almost certainly is plagued by several serial arsonists, the city's highest-ranking firefighter said.

Chief Kerri Donis said fire and police investigators are studying 21 fires that have occurred since May.

"Some show some common denominators, others not so much," Donis said Tuesday morning after her department's budget hearing. "We think we have several central arsonists in three or four different areas. We are monitoring that very closely and we have some things in place that may happen next."

Several of the fires are giving downtown a burned-out look.

The huge abandoned structure at Tulare and G streets that once housed the Del Monte packing plant burned for hours on May 17. A third of it collapsed in flames and much of the remainder was blackened.

Flames on May 29 ripped through the empty building at Ventura Street and Broadway what once was home to the Ace tire shop.

Fulton Mall was the scene of two fires on the night of June 2 and the early morning of June 3.

The first occurred in the Helm Building's basement. The building's fire sprinkler system activated. Firefighters found evidence of three separate extinguished fires and a gas line that was severed from its connectors and left in the "on" position."

The second occurred at Procter's Jewelers. The showroom and a supply/inventory area near the showroom burned.

There also was a fire on June 2 at Bairos Recycling on Orange Avenue, just southwest of the Jensen Avenue-Golden State Boulevard intersection.

Donis at the budget hearing said Mayor Ashley Swearengin's proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2015 begins the long process of rebuilding the fire department. The Great Recession has taken a toll on operations.

Donis said more firefighters will be hired through a federal grant. More equipment and firefighting vehicles will be added. Fire Station 18 will get a new $2.5 million structure.

However, Donis added, the department remains substantially understaffed compared to national standards. Donis said she understands the city's budget pressures. She asked the council to keep an eye on her department's long-term needs.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or ghostetter@fresnobee.com. Read his City Beat blog at fresnobee.com/city-beat.

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