Novato firefighters investigate dozens of arson fires

January 9, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Authorities in Novato are investigating at least 56 fires -- all deliberately set. The most recent were in the Rush Creek Open Space Preserve and near Redwood Boulevard and Briarwood Court overnight.

Novato fire and police officials met with several outside agencies Monday afternoon to come up with a strategy for catching this arsonist. The plan may include extra patrols overnight and bringing in help from both federal and state authorities.

The latest set of arson fires in Novato hit a little too close to home for those who live in the Bahia neighborhood northeast of downtown.

"What's to say that fire couldn't jump this hill and spread through this community here, these houses? Once it started, who knows," resident Ginnie Jarvis said.

Police and fire officials now count as many as 56 small fires set in and around Novato since Saturday night. Investigators say they all appear to be set by the same person.

"The majority of these have been in the vegetation, the dry vegetation," Novato Fire Deputy Chief Eric Nickel said. "We did have one dumpster fire, but the majority have been in the vegetation, some of them very close to occupied residential structures. They are clearly arson."

The most recent series happened overnight in the Rush Creek Open Space Preserve. There were more than a dozen ignition points that either merged or burned themselves out before firefighters arrived. The main fire wasn't far from a residential neighborhood.

"We take it a little personally out here; this is a beautiful area and for someone to come out and start a fire is a little troublesome," resident Donald Jarvis said.

The latest incidents come after a weekend that saw about 20 fires, beginning Saturday night. They were concentrated in southern Novato's Seascape Village neighborhood. Most were set in brush and vegetation areas, but there was a dumpster fire and one that burned dangerously close to a condominium complex.

"There was some scorching of a fence at one of the condominiums which obviously gives us concerns; all of this gives us concern because of the potential that a fire could spread," Novato Police Capt. Jim Berg said.

The already high level of concern is being heightened even more by the dry conditions in the Bay Area.

A residential garbage can was set on fire about 7 p.m. Monday night about a mile from the first batch of fires. Police say it is suspicious but they are not sure if it is connected to the other fires.

Police have asked anyone with information about the fires to call the Novato Police Department Hot Tip Line at 800-848-0101.