Police were looking for a serial arsonist whose motive, they said, is very specific — the man sets blazes in nearby Orange County neighborhoods to distract firefighters so he could burglarize their stations.
Surveillance video from Sunday morning show what Santa Ana police said is the arsonist running toward the Orange County Fire Authority's station as the fire trucks left to fight a blaze in a nearby neighborhood.
In the video, the arsonist lies in wait for firefighters to leave before he sneaks into their garage and steals their cash box, police said.
"I'm speechless that someone would do that," said Armida Montalvo, a resident who believes that arsonist set her truck on fire.
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"My husband heard a big pop, he looked out and the truck was on fire," she said.
She was shocked to learn her truck fire was one of three fires set Sunday near fire stations, some of which were burglarized moments later.
"To do something to someone and still go and rob somebody — to me it just doesn't make sense," Montalvo said. "Luckily it was just the truck, and not the house because I have children in here."
Investigators said it's a unique and specific method of operation.
"The only thing that's being taken is money — and money that firefighters have in their stations, in a specific area, which leads us to believe this person may have knowledge of how firefighters operate," said Cpl. Anthony Bertagna of the Santa Ana Police Department.
Similar fires close to fire stations also happened in Anaheim and Irvine, police said, where burglars have taken cash from the station's food fund. Investigators want to catch the arsonist before he hurts someone.
"We don't want people to become victims in his elaborate scheme to commit burglaries," Bertagna said.
The arsonist's vehicle is believed to be a dark-colored, four-door 2000 to 2005 Buick LeSabre that's missing its front plate.
Anyone with information is asked to contact SAPD Detective A. Gonzalez, at 714-245-8732, firstname.lastname@example.org or Orange County Crime Stoppers at 1-855-TIP-OCCS.