String of car fires in Contra Costa Co.


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The crime spree kicked off with the torching of cars at a gated apartment complex on El Portal in El Sobrante. About three hours later, the arsonist was lighting his last fire and was nearly caught in Richmond.

A car fire was an early morning wake-up call for Steve Zien on May Road in El Sobrante.

"That's how high the flames were. It was crazy. I told her to call 911," said Zien.

Zien said the emergency response was fantastic because crews were already out fighting the other fires. There was a fire on El Portal that burned four cars. There were two fires on San Pablo Dam Road, very close to Zien's house, including one near a psychic reader's business. There was another fire on De Anza Drive in Richmond, not far from De Anza High School, that torched a van. The last one was near 3400 Morningside Drive, also in Richmond, about 5:30 Wednesday morning, where a man walking his dog may have caught a glimpse of the arsonist.

"A witness saw a white or Hispanic male wearing a dark hooded jacket, about six feet tall, weighing 180 pounds. He was seen running from the scene," said Richmond Police Lt. Mark Gagan.

Arson investigators fanned out over the six crime sites to document the damage, which did not spread to any buildings or injure anyone. But one arson investigator shared with Zien exactly how the fires started and why.

"They punched the windows out and he said they carried a little squirt bottle of gasoline. And you squirt it and pull all the stuff out that burns and get it going. You throw a match in there. He said usually they do it where it is dark, so they can see it," said Zien.

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