String of Fires in Castro Has Residents Worried
A series of fires in San Francisco’s Castro district that officials have deemed "suspicious" has residents of the famous gay neighborhood worried that an anti-gay arsonist may be targeting the area.
California Beat reported on Feb. 3 that three fires began in the space of an hour in the Castro District, home to the building that once housed Harvey Milk’s camera store. One of the fires was confined to a trash can and was extinguished quickly when the fire department responded at around 4:30 on the morning of Feb. 3, but two other blazes reached two-alarm status.
One of the blazes struck an apartment building. The fire department responded at about 5:00 a.m., but the fire raged and required a second alarm before it was brought under control. Seventeen people were displaced from the building.
"Who knows what a person like that is thinking?" said Battalion Chief Kirk Richardson, who was quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle in a Feb. 4 article. "When they set it when people are sleeping, and set it at the front entry?"
The fire not only gutted the apartment building, but also damaged a neighboring building, media sources said. Residents told the Chronicle that they woke to a blaze that blocked the front door, forcing them to escape through the back entrance. One man said that he had wanted to braze the flames to rescue some personal possessions, but the fire’s heat was already too intense.
The third blaze prompted a fire department response at around 5:30 a.m. when a fire broke out in the attic of a home that was under renovation. That blaze also required two alarms. The building was not occupied at the time.
The cluster of fires, which California Beat reported took place within a two-block area, immediately raised suspicions that someone was deliberately and systematically targeting the Castro. "I would say it’s suspicious at the very least," neighborhood resident Vince Pietromartire told California Beat in a follow-up story. "How could one of the fires start here and all of a sudden there are two others?"
A day later, a fourth early-morning blaze erupted at another Castro residence. Neighbors put out the fire before it could spread, the California Beat reported on Feb. 4.
A two-alarm fire broke out in the early morning hours of Feb. 6, but officials do not believe that it was connected with the other four incidents. For one thing, the Feb. 6 fire took place in another neighborhood, Lower Twin Peaks, rather than in the Castro. Officials also said that arson was not suspected in the Lower Twin Peaks fire.