San Luis Obispo authorities are searching for a suspected serial arsonist after six small brush fires broke out across the city within four hours of each other Tuesday night.
No one was injured in the fires, and only minor damage was reported to an irrigation line.
City Fire Inspector Roger Maggio, also the city fire marshal, confirmed Wednesday afternoon that the fires are believed to have been intentionally set by the same individual or group of people.
The first fire was reported at 6:06 p.m. in vegetation behind the CHP dispatch center in the 600 block of California Boulevard.
Minutes later, at 6:15 p.m., a second fire was reported in a brushy area behind the San Luis Obispo Police Department in the 1000 block of Walnut Street. A police officer on scene said it was put out within minutes and appeared to have started in an area with no signs of human activity, too far from Highway 101 to have been caused by a tossed cigarette butt.
As both San Luis Obispo city and Cal Fire engine crews were attending to those fires, at 6:35 p.m., a third fire was reported behind Wheeler-Smith Mortuary in the 2800 block of South Higuera Street.
Another fire was reported at the intersection of Montalban and Santa Rosa streets at 7:34 p.m.
Two hours later, at 9:33 p.m., a brush fire was reported near the 500 block of Mountain View Street, and a final small fire broke out at 10:12 p.m. near the intersection of Santa Rosa Street and Murray Avenue, just blocks from the Montalban Street fire.
“Then they just stopped,” Maggio said.
He said the fire and police departments are investigating but as of Wednesday afternoon had no leads on a possible suspect.
Each fire was relatively small and took just minutes to extinguish, Maggio said, but city officials are taking the threat seriously.
“It’s not the severity (of the fires); it’s what the threat was to the surrounding properties,” Maggio said. “Usually when you’re dealing with a small wildland fire, it’s a nonevent. But when it’s in a very populated environment, we’re talking about a major threat.”
Maggio said the Fire Department also put out a fire last week that is believed to have been arson. That fire was not far from Santa Rosa Park in a vegetated area behind Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center.
“We’re very concerned, especially when we’re chasing grassfires in the drought and using water,” he said.
Investigators are asking for the public’s help for information leading to a suspect.
Maggio said that property owners should take care to clear a radius free of vegetation around homes and property structures as a defensive measure as fire season approaches.
He asks that residents be observant and report any unusual activity in areas with a high risk of fire.
“People tend to be curious when there’s a fire and will stand around and watch. Anyone seen walking away from the scene of a fire should be considered suspicious,” Maggio said.
Anyone with information is asked to call Maggio at 781-7386.