Arsons spread: 4 more cars torched in S.F.

July 29 SAN FRANCISCO — Four more cars were set ablaze overnight in San Francisco, bringing the number of arson attacks since this weekend to a dozen, authorities said Wednesday.

The fires have cut through a wide swath of the city, and vehicles of all types have been targeted, from a Volvo to a Ford F-150 pickup. No arrests have been made in the fires, which have all occurred late at night or before dawn. Authorities don’t even know if the same person is responsible for all 12.

The most recent fire happened about 3:25 a.m. Wednesday when a Honda was burned at La Playa and Balboa streets near Ocean Beach. The blaze charred a vehicle parked behind it.

A Porsche and an Infiniti were found on fire at Francisco and Powell streets in North Beach at 2 a.m. Another blaze happened at Newcomb Avenue and Selby Street in the Bayview about 11 p.m. Tuesday.

Wednesday’s fires came a day after someone burned three cars and tried to torch a fourth on streets off of Geary Boulevard. Over the weekend and early Monday, there were four additional fires.

“It’s very upsetting. We just hope it stops,” Jamie Tapia, 38, said Wednesday, a day after her husband, who works with the state Employment Development Department, found his state-owned Chevrolet on fire near 48th Avenue and Geary Boulevard.

“It’s not fair,” Tapia said. “Hopefully, the police can do something, catch the people responsible for doing this.”

The attacks are being investigated by an arson task force that includes San Francisco police and fire officials. Police say there is no direct evidence linking all the incidents, despite a number of similarities.

The arsons come as authorities continue to investigate a series of portable-toilet fires that began late last year. In some cases, the arsonist ignited outhouses with newspaper, authorities said.

In one of the car-related incidents early Tuesday, someone saw a burning newspaper under a Ford truck, kicked it away and doused the fire with a water bottle.

The use of newspapers as kindling is a clue, said Candice DeLong, a former FBI profiler and psychiatric nurse.

“If I had a series of arsons only being started by a newspaper, that would be something I would consider in developing a personality and lifestyle sketch – i.e., a profile,” DeLong said.

Both the car and toilet fires are considered “nuisance arsons,” crimes that are typically committed by young people, DeLong said.

“They’re not a nuisance to the owners, but compared to seeing a forest fire or an apartment building on fire, the nuisance-fire offenders tend to be those who are more on the youthful side, say their late teens or early 20s,” DeLong said.

Arsonists typically strike in areas close to where they live or work, DeLong said.

It’s possible, but not likely, that the arsonist has something against cars, she said. In 2005, Caltech graduate physics student William Cottrell, then 24, was convicted of a series of Los Angeles-area firebomb attacks of sportutility vehicles and car dealerships in the name of the Earth Liberation Front.

Investigators in the San Francisco fires will probably cast a wide net, she said.

“Could it be a homeless person? Yes,” DeLong said. “Could it be an ecoterrorist? I suppose. But I rather doubt it’s a hardened, middle-aged criminal.”

Catalina Perez, 54, whose Volvo was one of two cars destroyed early Tuesday on Bertie Minor Lane in Japantown, figures “it’s either someone who’s a little crazy or kids that are out of control.”

“School’s out and they don’t have much to do,” Perez said. “They’re completely unsupervised, if in fact it’s kids.”

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