By Da Lin

SUISUN CITY (KPIX 5) — A wind-whipped fire that destroyed several homes and killed a number of animals in Suisun City on Wednesday afternoon has now been determined to be arson. Fire investigators said they have identified the suspects and police are now searching for them.

Suisun City Fire Chief Justin Vincent said the fire started around 3:30 p.m. about 100 feet behind the Suisun Wildlife Center, in an area where people were using a makeshift grill to cook.  He said that fire got out control and spread quickly when the winds started blowing 20 plus miles per hour in the triple-digit heat.

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“I’m angry, this is not acceptable. Reckless burning is not acceptable. We need to be better than this,” said Vincent.

He said it’s considered arson even if they didn’t intend to burn down nearby buildings and homes. Once those suspects are arrested, the chief said they would face “reckless arson” charges.

Firefighters said the vegetation fire burned down three homes and caused major damage to four others on Maple Street. As police looked for the suspects Thursday, evacuated families returned to assess the damage.

“None of it makes sense, none of it,” said homeowner Richard Lewis

Part of Lewis’ house is still standing. But the damage was so severe that he considered it a total loss.

“The attic was on fire. So the firefighters did what they had to,” said Lewis.

He had lived in the home for 17 years. On Thursday he was in tears and disbelief.

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“It’s weird times right now, man. It’s bad,” said Lewis.

Vincent said they’ve already recorded 49 fires in Suisun City so far this year while recording 24 fires in the same period last year. He also pointed out there were 18 homeless encampment fires in all of 2019, while there have been 18 so far this year.

The fire chief wouldn’t say if the people who were cooking at that makeshift grill were homeless. But neighbors said homeless people were very active in that area.

Vincent said he is worried about the fire season and said the department is already understaffed due to budget issues.

“This is the first week of June. We’re not even in fire season, yet. We’re already losing structures. The fatigue level is really high within the fire service. We have the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s riots going on we’re trying to prepare for,” said Vincent. “It just seems like the world’s worst game of Jumanji. Every week it’s something new.”

People at the Suisun Wildlife Center on Kellogg Street are also tired and worried. This is their fourth fire. Executive Director Monique Liguori said the previous three were also intentionally set.

The main building of the center survived with very minor damage. But they lost a few small outbuildings that housed the animals. Liguori said the fire killed four squirrels and three owls that they were caring for.

“Losing the animals is the hardest part,” said Liguori. “We can rebuild any of these buildings. But losing animals that we’ve known and loved for many, many years is the toughest part.”

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One of the owls that died had been with the center for 17 years.