SAN JOSE (CBSSF) — San Jose firefighters are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a serial arsonist who has set fire to a number of buildings in the downtown area since Wednesday, endangering the lives of residents and firefighters alike.
Since Wednesday, the city has experienced 10 fires within a small geographic area bounded by East Julian Street and William Street, and 17th and 33rd streets, Deputy Chief John Dellinger said Saturday afternoon.
Eight of those have been confirmed as arson, while the cause of the remaining two remains undetermined, Dellinger said.
Buildings targeted for arson have included a church, commercial buildings and five single-family homes, Dellinger said.
Fire officials released a sketch Saturday of a person of interest in the arson attacks, who is described as a white or Hispanic adult male 25 to 40 years old, 6 feet to 6 feet 2 inches tall with a thin build, around 160 to 180 pounds,
The suspect has dark medium length hair and has been seen wearing dark clothes and distinctive large framed glasses, Dellinger said.
The reward is being offered by San Jose Firefighters Local 230 because the fires endanger both residents and firefighters, said Robert Sapien, union president and battalion chief for Battalion 1.
“These fires have targeted San Jose residents in the darkest hours of the night when they are most vulnerable,” Sapien said. “We have been very fortunate that these fires have not resulted in serious injury or death to our residents.”
“Should these fires continue, I fear our good fortune will not continue,” Sapien said.
Sapien said the fires have been difficult for firefighters to fight too because they start on the exterior of the building where they have plenty of oxygen and spread quickly.
In the most recent fire, an elderly coupled escaped with their life from a 2-alarm fire in their home at East St. John and 17th streets Saturday morning with the help of Good Samaritans who saw the flames, according to fire officials.
A resident out for a run around 4:20 a.m. spotted the flames coming from the one-story Victorian and attempted to wake the residents and alert neighbors, before running to a nearby fire station to report the fire, San Jose fire Capt. Barry Ehlers said.
Fire crews arrived to find the home engulfed in flames, but by the neighbors had helped the couple outside, Ehlers said.
“You had Good Samaritans…and luckily no one got injured,” Ehlers said.
Firefighters also found the couple’s pet cat inside the home and brought it outside to safety, he said.
Crews attacked the blaze for nearly two hours before declaring it under control.
The firefight was made even tougher due to the home’s roof collapsing around 4:35 a.m., according to Ehlers.
He said the fire appears to have started near the house’s rear porch area and quickly spread to its roof.
The blaze displaced the elderly couple, who are receiving housing assistance from the American Red Cross.
Ehlers estimated the fire caused at least $200,000 in damage to the century-old home.
He said that while the cause of the blaze remains under investigation, fire investigators “highly suspect” that the same person or people who set 10 other arson fires in the surrounding area over the past few days is the culprit.
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