A 45-year-old San Luis Obispo resident was arrested Monday after allegedly purposefully setting a small grass fire near the railroad tracks in a city-owned open space.
No injuries were reported nor property damaged, and the suspect was no longer listed in custody at the San Luis Obispo County Jail on Tuesday, according to jail records.
Deon Bridewell Sr. was arrested about 1:30 p.m., three hours after another small brush fire was extinguished by firefighters several blocks away, but investigators say there is no evidence linking him to that fire.
Bridewell’s arrest comes less than two weeks after the Police Department announced that it is searching for one or more people believed to have intentionally set about 40 similar fires across the city since October 2014.
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As of Tuesday, the Police Department had no evidence connecting Bridewell to those fires, according to Sgt. John Villanti.
About 10:30 a.m., firefighters responded to a small brush fire near the Highway 101 overpass in the 2200 block of San Luis Drive. That fire was put out quickly, and no witnesses were present when it began, Villanti said.
Hours later, the Fire Department received a report of a grass fire near a fence separating city-owned property from Union Pacific Railroad-owned train tracks at the end of Johnson Avenue, behind the CHP headquarters, where a small brush fire was set May 6.
A witness reportedly saw Bridewell start the fire and followed him on foot before identifying him to responding officers, Villanti said.
Bridewell was arrested and booked into County Jail on suspicion of a single charge of misdemeanor arson and was released Monday night with a promise to appear in court. No court date had been set as of Tuesday afternoon, according to court records.
Villanti said the misdemeanor charge required Bridewell be released because no property was damaged in the Johnson Avenue fire and the blaze did not immediately threaten any structures.
“It was about a 5-by-5-foot area of grass, likely started with a simple lighter,” he said. “Nothing was really in peril in that case.”
Bridewell’s arrest came after police announced they are trying to identify a suspect in the recent string of small fires across the city. No injuries or serious property damage have been reported in those fires, which were each put out quickly.
City fire investigators have been working at the scene of Saturday’s fire at The Sub novelty shop on the 200 block of Higuera Street — which officials say was likely accidental — a priority given anticipated rain early next week. Once their initial investigation is complete there, they will further compare evidence collected from the previous brush fires with evidence gathered Monday from Johnson Avenue to decide whether there are any links to Bridewell.
“So far, we’re thinking this might not be tied to (the recent brush fires), and the timing might just be bad,” Villanti said.
Villanti said that Bridewell is known to San Luis Obispo officers from previous interactions, but none of those cases involved arson.
Authorities are asking the public for information regarding the recent rash of brush fires, and the nonprofit Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward to anyone with information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible. Tips can be submitted by calling 549-STOP or at slotips.org.
Vallenti said that residents, especially those near remote or open space areas, should be aware of anyone who is seen wandering there who “don’t look like they belong.”
“Arsonists are somewhat like burglars. They’re stealthy,” Villanti said. “What we want is people to be mindful and calling in anything suspicious.”