Frats aflame

It hasn’t been a good year for Chico fraternities, as three of their houses have been torched by arsonists in a four-month period. The latest blaze occurred early Saturday morning, Aug. 16, at the Alpha Gamma Rho house on Second and Ivy streets.

It appears the house was targeted twice that morning, as firefighters responded first at around 1:30 a.m., when a neighbor reported a mattress burning in the side yard near the house. The neighbor also told authorities that she had seen two young men leaving the scene.

That smaller fire was apparently started near a discarded mattress and was brought under control by a garden hose-wielding neighbor before the fire department arrived, reported Chico Fire Department inspector Marie Fickert. But later, at about 4:30 a.m., 911 dispatchers received a call from the same tipster, who was awakened by “crackling” noises. This time, the fire caught along the fence and house dormers, spreading to the roof and attic. The 911 caller briefly entered the burning house in an attempt to alert anyone who might be inside. The one resident who was home at the time escaped without injury.

Although firefighters were on the scene within minutes, the house was “fully involved” by the time they arrived. Investigators are fairly sure arson was the cause, but have no solid suspects. There was a small fire started in a planter near Shrumer Gym on Warner Street at around the same time, and there is a theory that the two fires are related. Also around that time, a raucous party at a frat near the AGR house was letting out, leading authorities to speculate that drunken partygoers could have hopped the fence and started the blaze after leaving the party.

Before last weekend, the most recent frat arson occurred in July at the Tau Gamma Theta house. The fire was blamed on a jilted pledge, who was later arrested. In May, an unattached party building dubbed "the fort" at Delta Si Delta went up in flames after someone lit a Dumpster next to the building on fire. No arrests were made in that incident.