Stephen Ellison

Series of Small Fires Tests Nerves in San Jose Neighborhood

A San Jose neighborhood is on edge after a series of recent small fires that appear to have been intentionally set.

Residents around the Olinder Park area have reason to fear the possibility of a serial arsonist because they’ve seen it before.

The same neighborhood was victimized by the so-called South Bay Arsonist in 2014, when homes, a church and a warehouse went up in flames. The arsonist was caught and sentenced to prison.

A small fire Monday next to a walking trail at the Olinder Park was put out quickly by firefighters, but the fast response didn’t alleviate fears.

"There are homes nearby. There’s a ton of brush," resident Kari Davisson said. "It’s cold, but it’s dry. And just like that, the creekside could be up in flames."

Neighbors said a second fire erupted in the same area just minutes later. Many told us they’ve seen dozens of small fires here in the past few months. While residents acknowledge some of the fires were apparently started by people in a nearby homeless encampment, the most recent ones seem different -- and much too familiar.

"It wasn’t contained, it wasn’t hidden," Davisson said. "It didn’t look like the kind of fire that you would use to keep warm. And it was right next to a trail."

Concerned residents just don't want to see things escalate.

"We obviously are over sensitive in our area because of the arsonist we had a couple of years back," resident Jeff Wheeler said. "That really does concern us."

The Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association has been in contact with the fire department, and investigators are aware of residents' concerns. Fire officials told the association that while they take all calls seriously, the department doesn’t have the staff to investigate all fires when there is no evidence or witness pointing to a possible suspect.

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