Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 42 / 19 October 2017
 

SFPD probes Castro fires

NEWS


s.hemmelgarn@ebar.com

Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Scott Wiener survey the fire and water damage to 3626 16th Street, home to Michael Winger and Jessica White-Winger, right. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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San Francisco arson inspectors are continuing to investigate three suspicious fires that were started in the largely gay Castro area last week, while police say nothing so far indicates a hate crime is involved.

"There are so many things that it could be," including pyromania, said Mission Station Captain Greg Corrales. "There's really nothing to indicate that there's a reason that the Castro neighborhood was selected" at this time, he said.

"We're intent on catching the guy," added Corrales. "This is a very dangerous situation, which we're taking very seriously."

He urged people to report suspicious activity.

"People shouldn't hesitate to call," he said. "Sometimes people see something they think is a little odd but are reluctant to call because they don't want to feel foolish or like they're being a pest, but that's not the case at all. If in doubt, we really urge people to give us a call."

The most recent fire was reported Friday morning, February 4, in front of Eureka Barber Shop and Hair Styling at 4222 18th Street.

Thursday morning, February 3, firefighters responded to a fire at 3620 16th Street and one affecting two buildings at 17th and Hartford streets. Several people were displaced as a result of the 16th Street fire.

"The fire department has been fantastic," said Brian Kendall, the owner of the building at the corner of Hartford and 17th streets. "What is disturbing with the 16th Street fire is the person tried to light people's doors on fire and burn them alive."

District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, who represents the Castro and other neighborhoods, said, "I know the fire and police departments are working very hard and are highly focused on the Castro arsons. I am confident in their work."

Wiener had just come from the scene of an unrelated fire on Twin Peaks before an interview with the Bay Area Reporter Monday morning, February 7.

"People are very concerned and there is some fear about why this is happening and the fact it is so random and the person is lighting fires in the doorways of people's homes while they are asleep," said Wiener. "But we are also seeing people want to help their neighbors and spread the word about it. There has been a very positive response in the community in terms of people coming together."

Asked about possible suspects, Park Station Captain Denis F. O'Leary said, "One grainy video showed a male." He said that video came from 17th and Hartford streets.

He said he didn't know if any officers have been working as lookouts in people's houses, but he said when an officer "works a neighborhood and knows people, it would not surprise me if the officer used the relationship to do that."

As for lookouts in people's houses, Corrales said, "We're using a lot of resources on this," but he said he couldn't disclose tactics publicly.

O'Leary said that Park and Mission stations "have combined to create a little joint task force to increase the plainclothes presence in that neighborhood."

He said, "Our ground zero is 16th and Market."

Corrales said, "We are devoting a lot of resources to this investigation. ... You can read between the lines."

In cases like this, police look at people who have been convicted of arson and are registered with the state, as well as people who have been arrested for arson in the past but have not been convicted, said O'Leary.

Corrales referred questions about leads and possible motives to arson inspectors. Asked for a still image from the 17th and Hartford video or a copy of the footage, Corrales referred the request to arson inspectors.

Inspector Jim Miranda, with the arson task force, directed questions about the fires to the police department's media relations unit.

Officer Albie Esparza, a police department spokesman, referred questions about the fires to Lieutenant Mindy Talmadge, a fire department spokeswoman.

Talmadge said she couldn't provide any additional information. However, she said investigators couldn't definitively say that a trash fire Thursday morning at 2155 15th Street was related to the other incidents, but "because of the proximity and time of day, that one is also being taken into account, I believe."

Anyone with information about the fires can call 911 or (415) 553-8090 (by cell) if it's an emergency. The non-emergency line is (415) 553-0123.

People with information can also call the anonymous tip line at (415) 575-4444, text a tip to tip411, or submit a tip at http://www.sf-police.org.

Matthew S. Bajko contributed to this report.






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