Victims of the fires in January included a church, a warehouse, and private homes. A security camera at one house caught Patrick Brennan in the act of setting the porch on fire. He returned four times over a 45-minute period until he succeeded.
"Yes, it was our security system that enabled them to actually bring charges to him," said arson victim Jeff Levine. "But it was the neighborhood on watch and coming together that made it so hot for him that he couldn't set any more fires."
Brennan told ABC7 News he's glad he was caught because he couldn't control the urge to set fires. He explained over the phone what motivated him.
"I think it was stress," he said. "It gives me the urge to set fires, and my mom had Alzheimer's disease. She was having difficulty recognizing who I was. She just died in August."
Brennan was facing a potential sentence of 455 years to life, but asked for a plea bargain.
"He would have to admit to all the charges, and he would have to agree to a life sentence," said Deputy District Attorney Bud Porter. "In the end, he agreed to it. He agreed to plead guilty to all the charges -- all 13 arsons and attempted arsons -- and agreed to a 40 year to life sentence."
This was Brennan's third strike in California. He was convicted of setting wildfires in San Jose in 1999 and in Arizona in 1994.
In the most recent string of arson, the fires were all set within a mile of where he lived in San Jose.
"He would go on a walkabout in the early morning hours every night and light fires," Porter said. "And he would walk around and use essentially a Bic lighter to set fires and then return home."
The fires did an estimated $6 million in damage. The court will determine if Brennan has the means to pay restitution to victims.