12 suspicious fires near Concord residential area leave neighbors on edge

Concord is concerned about a serial arsonist who has set a dozen fires since September. 

The latest was early Tuesday morning, and it's not just the frequency but location that make the fires dangerous. 

"It's only a 143 acre park, and usually we get one or two small fires a year," said a resident of Wharton Way, adjacent to Newhall Community Park. 

The west side of the park, where the fires have been sparked, is open space full of trees and dry brush. 

The resident, who preferred to be unnamed, showed KTVU photos he has taken of several fires, after rushing from his condominium next door. . 

"It's not arbitrary, the police know it, the fire department knows it, and the people who live here know it," he said. "This is not normal, someone is out here intentionally lighting fires."  

Concord Police hope by publicizing the string of fires, someone will provide a tip to the suspect's identity. 

"Everyone out  in the neighborhood is very worried," said Concord Police Corporal David Petty.

"A residential area backs up to this vegetation and grass, and some of these fires do come within several feet of these structures."

The fires break out late at night or in the early morning hours.

They have been in the vicinity of Melody Drive and Bel Air Drive, but Tuesday's blaze, at 3:30 a.m., was closer to Treat Boulevard. 

Fortunately, with a fire station close by, response has been swift and the fires kept small.

Without wind, they haven't spread too high into the trees and thrown embers, but residents are uneasy about the future. 

"It starts getting close and you get nervous," said neighbor Mark Furtado.

"That's why I sleep with the windows open so I can smell smoke and call the fire department." 

Many residents have strong suspicions that a homeless camper is torching the park, possibly to push back on periodic efforts to clear transients out. It's an ongoing tussle. 

"We know a homeless person set a fire a few weeks ago," said Furtado, "because some neighbors came out with hoses, and were hosing it down."

Residents are aware, from disasters in other communities, what fire could do if it took hold in their densely populated neighborhood, full of multi-story apartments and townhomes.  

For now, those living closest to the park sacrifice sleep- poised to call 911 again at any time.

"I don't know who's doing it, but it's intentional and it's definitely serial," said the resident who has snapped numerous photos. 

On at least one occasion, the suspect has lit two fires in the same night. 

The number to call with information is (866) 50-ARSON. Tipsters can remain anonymous.