El Sobrante unsettled by spate of car fires
By Karl Fischer
Contra Costa Times


Kim Uldricks thinks twice about parking on the street these days.

"I do worry. I have not lived here for so many years, but I have always thought this was a safe neighborhood," said Uldricks, who lives on Morningside Drive in suburban Richmond, up the street from De Anza High School. "Now I think about parking my car in the garage. I've been talking to my husband about it."

She's not alone. Richmond's May Valley neighborhood and surrounding El Sobrante developed an acute case of jitters as local authorities searched for a firebug who lit 10 fires during the past two weeks, destroying 16 cars and trucks.

Two doors down, a blackened patch of driveway pavement reminds Uldricks and other Morningside residents of the trouble Nov. 4, when someone burned a bus and a car.

"It is very scary," said Patricia Roth, who runs a day care in the area. "I have lived here 16, 17 years, and this is the first time anything like this has ever happened."

The arsonist last struck Tuesday morning, torching a Toyota Corrolla parked beside a fence on Appian Way near Allview Avenue about 5:15 a.m. Contra Costa sheriff's deputies searched the area for a thin white or Latino man wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt and black sweatpants seen running from the fire.

Witnesses saw someone of similar description fleeing from a car fire lit Nov. 7, and from a separate fire ignited Nov. 4.

Similarities in method and witness descriptions of a suspect, as well as proximity both in time and distance, led investigators to theorize last week that the 10 fires deliberately set in and around El Sobrante and Richmond's May Valley neighborhood this month are all the work of one person. Nobody has been hurt.

"We have a very vague suspect description," Richmond police Lt. Manjit Sappal said. "So we're just telling our (officers) to be extra vigilant in that area, and also to contact residents whenever they can to let them know about what's happening and to ask them to keep an eye out, especially for any suspicious individuals or situations in the neighborhood."

Richmond police and the Sheriff's Office began searching for the arsonist after a two-hour incidentduring the predawn hours of Nov. 4 in which six separate fires claimed 12 cars and trucks along a path running west to east, on side streets roughly following San Pablo Dam Road.

Firefighters then extinguished three more fires Nov. 7. Those fires came late that night, all within clusters of streets off a half-mile stretch of Valley View Road.

Affected police agencies, along with the Contra Costa Fire District and Richmond Fire Department, formed a task force last week to investigate the arsons. Investigators reported little so far; the suspect does not seem to show a preference for any make or model of car, nor location — fires happened on the street, in driveways, even in covered carports.

Nor does the arsonist appear to hang around to watch his handiwork, sprinting from at least three crime scenes.

"The way it is happening, this case will be made by providing the right information to residents," Sappal said, meaning people must know to look for signs of trouble.

He needn't worry about that.

"I think people are alarmed," said Susan Fournier, who works at the El Sobrante Boys & Girls Club on Appian Way. "A lot of people are leaving porch lights on and window (coverings) up, anything they can do to try and stop this. A lot of people are worried about their houses catching on fire. It's definitely a topic of concern. Everybody is talking about it."


Staff writer Chris Treadway contributed to this article. Reach Karl Fischer at 510-262-2728. Follow him at Twitter.com/kfischer510.
How to help
Authorities ask anyone with information about the recent car arsons in the El Sobrante area to call the Contra Costa Fire District's anonymous tip line at 866-502-7766.