General Crime

* Berkeley Police Investigating String of 13 Arson Fires

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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 said. UC Berkeley police Lt. Alex Yao said the first fire on campus was reported at 5:14 a.m. Saturday in the Kleeberger parking lot on the east side of campus. The fire was in a trash container, he said. The second blaze burned at about 11:40 p.m. on Sunday in a trash receptacle at a loading dock outside the Unit 2 on-campus housing complex, Yao said. The fire damaged a university-owned minivan parked nearby. A short time later, at about 12:04 a.m. Monday, a third fire was reported outside the university’s career counseling center at 2200 Bancroft Way. This time, a bench was on fire, Yao said. “At this point we’re also classifying that as arson,” he said. 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 to Berkeley police by calling (510) 981-5900. If calling from a cell phone, dial (510) 981-5911. Tips can be given to UC police by calling the criminal investigations bureau at (510) 642-0472.

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