Emeryville arson suspect caught on video putting on mask, climbing scaffolding: ATF

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EMERYVILLE, Calif. (Lisa Fernandez, KTVU) The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has released a series of short videos stemming from a suspected arson at a mixed-use project under construction in Emeryville that was torched twice, in July of 2016 and again in May.

The videos, made public for the first time on Friday – the same day the Alta Waverly construction project at 2302 Valdez Street burned in a massive fire in Oakland – depict a black-hooded suspect seen walking and bicycling near the 3800 San Pablo Avenue project that is being built in the former Maz glass shop.

The developer of that project is Rick Holliday of Holliday Development, a 20-year-old company that he runs with his wife, Nancy, and whose mission is to build “sustainable and cutting edge” mixed-use communities. His project was first set ablaze on July 6, 2016, and then again, on May 13. The man in the videos is seen putting on a mask, riding a bicycle and walking around 39th Street at the corner of San Pablo Avenue about 2.5 hours before the fire was reported at 4:58 a.m. Then, at an unknown time, a shadowy figure is seen climbing up and down the scaffolding of the building, which was later set ablaze. It's impossible to tell if that figure is the same man walking on the street, and it's also impossible to tell if the figure put any incendiary material on the building. The ATF refused to timestamp the two scaffolding videos it released, or release any other evidence.

ATF officials have said, however, that fires can take hours to fully ignite depending on what material is used to fuel them.

Originally, Holliday said he thought the first fire might have been a result of renegade fireworks. However, the ATF has deemed both of those blazes a result of arson, though no culprit has been caught. No one has yet said how Friday's fire in Oakland started, but many community members and at least one Oakland city councilman fear that an arsonist is at work, and one with an anti-gentrification bent.

Holliday told KTVU in an email on Tuesday that he remains "very frustrated" with what appears to be intentionally set fires at construction sites. But he said he is "resolute" in his commitment to get his schedule back on track.

The ATF videos show on May 13:

  • A man wearing all black carrying a back pack at 2:20 a.m. walking on a sidewalk on 39th Street, which is at the corner of San Pablo Avenue, where the fire was reported about 2.5 hours later.


  • A man in a black hoodie is seen riding a bicycle on 39th Street at 2:24 a.m.
  • What appears to be the same man putting on a mask at 2:25 a.m.
  • What appears to be the same man walking east on at 2:38 a.m. on 39th Street looking back in the direction of what would become the fire. 
  • A shadowy figure, who agents  say is the same suspect, is also seen climbing up the scaffolding of the Holliday Development project at an unknown time. However, the video is too grainy and the man is covered up, to be certain that the man on the sidewalk is one and the same. The ATF refuses to say what time this scaffolding video was taken.


  • And then a man is seen climbing down the scaffolding at an unknown time.

This is what the fire looked like. It was first reported at 4:58 a.m.

ATF spokeswoman Alexandria Corneiro told KTVU on Monday that this man is considered the prime suspect in the May 13 fire on San Pablo Avenue, but investigators have no evidence that he is linked to the three other major construction site fires in the recent past. Those include the July 2016 San Pablo Avenue fire, the Oct. 31, 2016 Lester Avenue fire at a complex under construction near Lake Merritt, and Friday’s fire at the Alta Waverly.

The ATF is offering a $110,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people behind any of the fires: $50,000 for the first San Pablo Avenue fire, $50,000 for the second San Pablo Avneue fire, and $10,000 for the Lester Avenue fire.