Four more vehicles torched in SF

July 29, 2009 5:34:32 PM PDT
Four more cars were torched in San Francisco overnight. Investigators are worried the fires could spread to nearby homes and business. Plain-clothes officers are joining arson investigators trying to track down those responsible.

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Fire investigators are asking for help in stopping the vandalism, but their department has been hit by budget cuts.

The four cars that went up in flames overnight mean a total of 12 vehicles have burned since the weekend. The most recent fire came dangerously close to a home. A Honda was parked near an apartment and as it was burning flames jumped up and singed a nearby tree.

If the tree had been dead or burned better, the fire could have easily reached the nearby apartment complex full of residents. An arson team recently reduced to half-strength by budget cuts is looking into the fire and those cuts are adding to their concerns.

Fireballs from these car fires have been seen all over San Francisco lately. So far no injuries have been reported, but the fact that they have all been set in the middle of the night has put residents on edge.

Carlos Ban, who owns Barra Brothers Jiu Jitsu Academy, just opened for business last week, right across the street from the most recent car fire.

"Well, my main concern, in the middle of the night, is for the families around. Because, we have a lot of families around all these buildings," he said. "If it's early morning or something yeah, I can try to prevent that from happening. It's crazy what's happening."

Arson investigators say almost all the fires are definitely deliberately set. And, they share Ban's concerns.

"A concern that we have would be that one of the fires would expose to a structure, maybe where people are sleeping," said Mindy Talmadge with the San Francisco Fire Department.

"I looked outside and the flames were just so high, I mean it was coming out from both sides of the car underneath," recalled Caridad Rivera, talking about her mom's Volvo.

It was one of three vehicles torched early Tuesday morning. It was in the lot outside their Western Addition home. The women say someone deliberately stuffed newspapers underneath the car next to theirs then lit a match. Both exploded into flames.

"Yeah, it was a big hit because it was paid off. I just got new tires and the carpet was cleaned," Catalina Perez told ABC7.

The investigation is up to the fire department's arson team which until recently was a two-person team working 24-hour shifts. To deal with city budget reductions there is now one investigator available and one on-call.

"It is difficult, especially when we have a rash of fires like this," Talmadge told ABC7. "They're out constantly investigating. They're up all hours of the night. They're doing the best that they can with what they have."

There is nothing so far to indicate that all the deliberately-set fires are the work of one person, or that some fires may involve the work of a copycat arsonist. But, whoever is doing this should hope they are not caught in the act by Mr. Ban.

"I'll choke him out, easily," he said. "And, call the authorities of course so I don't get in trouble."

The fire department stresses that with the number of arson investigators, reduced from 12 to 6, they need the people of San Francisco to be their eyes and ears. Anyone who sees or hears anything suspicious, especially in the middle of the night, is asked to call police.

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