Late-night arsonist strikes downtown

Police and fire investigators are still searching for the perpetrator of a string of arson fires that kept firefighters busy for most of the early morning Thursday, May 29. Acknowledging an eerie similarity to a rash of late-night fires that caused $20,000 damage to a structure at the Boys & Girls Club March 30, officials are hoping that information from the public will help find the firebug soon.

Thursday morning’s string of suspicious fires broke out at several locations downtown during the small hours of the night. Most occurred within a few blocks of each other between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. On Main Street, two businesses were slightly damaged when somebody lit a couch on fire at Lulu’s and set a dumpster ablaze in the alcove of Sports LTD. The flaming dumpster was moved into the street by persons unknown, perhaps averting a more serious blaze.

Just after 5 a.m., firefighters were called out to a fraternity house on Hazel Street, where a heavy-timber structure in back of the main house was pouring flames from its windows. The two-story building, nicknamed “The Fort” by frat residents, was gutted but left standing. Nobody was inside at the time. Damage to the property is estimated at around $10,000.

There is no way of knowing whether the latest fires are related to the previous arson episode, but fire officials aren’t ruling it out. In both cases, a late-night firebug followed a somewhat circuitous route from one downtown business to another, torching Dumpsters and trash cans at every stop.

“It is a very similar scenario,” said Chico Fire Department spokeswoman and inspector Marie Fickert. “There certainly are links and a similarity of patterns.”

Fickert was quick to point out, however, that there was not enough evidence to say whether the sprees were related. Anyone with information regarding the case is urged to call 895-4912.