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Serial Arson Suspect Arrested, Accused of Starting More Than 30 Fires in Northern California

The Contra Costa County Fire Protection District and Cal Fire announced Wednesday the arrest of a 29-year-old man suspected of starting more than 30 fires in Northern California.

This is the third arrest related to arson or for negligently starting a fire in the past two weeks, Cal Fire said.

James William Wilson was booked into the Contra Costa County Jail in Martinez on eight counts of arson with bail set at $1 million, Contra Costa Fire officials said. Bail was enhanced in Wilson’s case because of the “nature of the activity” during Gov. Jerry Brown’s emergency declaration. Most of the fire threatened grassy, grazing areas, officials said.

Although Contra Costa fire officials did not release specific dates for the fires Wilson is accused of starting, they confirmed that he has been linked to the July 20 Bay Point vegetation fire and the July 29 Lafayette vegetation fire. Wilson is also accused of setting fires in Pittsburg, Antioch, Bay Point and Clayton between June 16-24. Contra Costa Fire spokesperson Robert Marshall said most of the fires occurred overnight.

Fire officials suspect Wilson of “willfully and maliciously setting fire to forest land,” a violation of Section 451(c) of the California Penal Code.

Wilson was taken into custody at his residence in Bay Point Wednesday morning without any incident, fire officials said. "The evidence that was collected from his residence this morning is still being processed," Cal Fire spokesperson Jim Crawford said.

Contra Costa fire investigators noticed a pattern of vegetation fires in the Bay Point area around early April. By late spring, the fire had spread to other areas of the county. Contra Costa and Cal Fire launched an investigation which led to Wednesday’s arrest. Wilson is linked to more than 30 fires along state route 4, state route 24 and Marsh Creek Road, fire officials said.

Communities affected by these fires include those living in Orinda, Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Concord, Martinez and Pittsburg.

Contra Costa fire officials continue to investigate the fire. More than 10,000 firefighters are currently fighting fires in California. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency last month in response to severe wildfires burning across the state, exacerbated by severe drought conditions and extreme weather.

Anyone familiar with this suspect or who may have any information pertaining to related fires in this series is asked to call the CCCFPD Arson Tip Line at (866) 50ARSON/ (866)-502-7766).

CCCFPD and CAL FIRE continue to ask everyone to be careful in the outdoors:

-- Residents should be vigilant in their preparedness and aware of suspicious persons when a fire does start. Suspicious activity should be reported including the time, individual’s physical description, and a vehicle description, including the license plate number. Always contact law enforcement, never approach a suspicious person.

-- More information on how you can be prepared for wildfires is available at www.readyforwildfire.org.

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