Two people suspected of setting a series of seven fires throughout Alameda in a span of about three hours have been arrested, public safety officials said Sunday morning. And now, investigators are looking at the possibility that five fires set on Friday in Oakland might be related.
Alameda police on Monday released the names and photos of Andrew Gutierrez, a 22-year-old transient, and Stephen Michael Petersen, 27, of Alameda. Both are expected to appear in court on Tuesday.
"It's fortunate we were able to locate them at the scene," Alameda Police Lt. Jill Ottaviano said Monday. "Usually, it's very difficult to catch people setting fires. But in this case, we got a little luck on our side."
Still, no evidence has been released explaining why police believe the two set the fires.
Though authorities said the fires were intentionally set, a motive for the blazes has not been revealed. No injuries were reported. Police estimated the total damage of the fires to be about $3 million.
The pair was arrested in connection with the eight fires set in different locations during a roughly three-hour period early Sunday morning. The fires damaged or destroyed five businesses on Park Street and displaced four families from their homes, according to Alameda Fire Chief Michael D'Orazi.
One of those fires ripped through Angela's Restaurant, which the owners bought in June and hoped to open next month - something that won't happen now. Another fire threatened Jim's Coffee Shop. Tom Geanekos witnessed the chaos.
"It was incredibly scary," he said. "There were so many firetrucks ...they did an incredible job."
Friends of Petersen describe him as a vegan, hippie and peace-loving guy. They said police have the wrong guy in custody.
"I'm thinking this might be a case of he was at the wrong place at the wrong time," said Edwina Phillips, Petersen's friend. "He walks home later hours every night. And the other guy was a transient. Where did he come from?"
Friends do not believe Petersen and the other suspect, Gutierrez, know each other. They also add that setting fires goes against Petersen's lifestyle.
"He will actually be sad if I tell him a joke that involves somebody getting hurt," said Zack Bateman, who plays in a band with Petersen. "He's very peaceful."
The first of the fires was reported at 12:56 a.m. to the 1300 block of Regent Street to a dumpster fire.
Then, at 1:11 a.m., firefighters responded to the 500 block of Willow Street to a report of a smell of smoke. Firefighters were unable to locate the source of the smell.
At 1:39 a.m., firefighters responded to the 1100 block of Regent Street to a house fire. Firefighters knocked down the blaze at 2:02 a.m. The fire caused damage to the rear of the house, including one room and the attic, according to fire officials. Fire officials put this fire at $100,000.
Fire crews were dispatched again at 2:22 a.m. to the 2200 block of San Antonio Avenue to a residential and vehicle fire that spread to a neighboring home.That fire heavily damaged one home and caused minor damage to a neighboring residence. Firefighters extinguished the blaze at 3:14 a.m. and estimated the damage to be at $300,000.
At 3:29 a.m., firefighters were dispatched to the 200 block of Encinal Avenue to a garbage can fire.
About 40 minutes later, firefighters responded to a three-alarm fire in the 1600 block of Park Street. Firefighters said this fire involved five businesses and multiple vehicles. The total for this fire was estimated at $2.6 million.
Crews responded to an eighth arson fire at 4:39 a.m. in a garbage container in the 1500 block of Park Street.
Bay City News and NBC Bay Area contributed to this report.