Novato man punches neighbor whose house caught on fire

NOVATO, Calif.

Firefighters say they've never seen a neighbor punch another before. It happened right in front of their command post on the 1400 block of Chase Street.

The man who did the punching got high fives from other neighbors. The man who lived inside the home that caught on fire is apparently very unpopular.

"It could be a whole lot worse, no one got hurt," said Steven Petker.

Petker is trying to focus on the positive after he and a roommate safely escaped a fire in Novato at 3:15 a.m. Wednesday.

He says when he woke up and saw his detached garage burning, he did what he could to save his home.

"I was able to break windows in my room and keep the house from burning," Petker said. "Because it had blown the windows and started a fire in my bedroom."

Firefighters say the fire was really moving when they pulled up. As they raced to put out the fire, they were surprised to hear some neighbors yelling to let it burn.

"You know, the neighbors are certainly polarized about this property," said Battalion Chief Gerald McCarthy. "I haven't spoken to anybody directly, but the neighbors have been talking amongst themselves and they're clearly very interested in why the fire occurred."

After the fire was out, and as Petker surveyed the damage, he then found out how unpopular he is in the neighborhood.

When the next door neighbors realized their car had burned, one neighbor punched Petker in the head.

"Yeah, you know when I come out of my house and half my car is melted, it's a little more than I can take at five in the morning," said neighbor Rupert Coles.

Another neighbor added, "I don't agree with what he did but it was in the heat of the moment and we've had enough of this."

Several neighbors claim they have seen illegal activity going on at this home and they suspect the activity may have led to the fire.

Petker left the scene after he was hit.

"I have had people knocking at my door at ten at night looking for people whose names they don't know," said neighbor Rupert Coles.

Firefighters say it is too early to tell what started the fire.

"Our investigators, they're still working on a cause," McCarthy said. "They're just going layer by layer, through the debris and try to find out what may have caused the fire."

As for the fight, Novato police say they took a report and they'll hand it over to the district attorney. But as of Wednesday morning, they had not arrested anyone.

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