Woman whose Oakland property was damaged by arson says hazards were ignored

A woman in Oakland is speaking out about a fire that damaged a small house on her property, and she’s upset about another incident in her neighborhood last night in which a small string of fires were intentionally set.

Investigators with the Oakland Fire Department believe an arsonist set fire to brush in four spots along WB I-580 using flares Tuesday evening. The fires were started between 35th Ave. and Coolidge, but were quickly extinguished by crews, according to Battalion Chief James Bowron.

 "Arson is very hard to prove," Bowron said. "We’re fortunate that we were able to have signs of a road flare at each of these incidents."

 It’s believed the arsonist gained access from a street below I-580, and climbed up through the brush to get near the freeway.

The fires were started about a half mile away from another fire on Friday, in which five homes were damaged on Quigley Street. One of the homeowners, Joanna Roberts, lost the small cottage behind her home. She had been renting the one bedroom, one bath space to a young couple who just got engaged in August.

"They’re hit worse than I am," Roberts said. "I still have my home… they’re scrambling around trying to find temporary housing."

She said tens of thousands of dollars of clothes, furniture and musical equipment are gone.

"They’re good decent kids with nothing now," she said.

The fire is believed to have started behind the Chevron gas station at the corner of 35th Ave. and Quigley, then spread through the brush that lines I-580 near the back of the homes.

"I’m a little upset," Roberts said. "We have been complaining to Caltrans for 18 months about the brush and the dryness."

A spokesman for Caltrans said they are addressing concerns in the neighborhood. The agency has put in a request to have their maintenance staff to immediately address issues like a broken fence near the freeway that may have provided access for people to get to the freeway.

Despite the two locations being close, Bowron said the two fire incidents are separate. Friday’s fire that damaged homes remains under investigation.

"I know a lot of people want answers and we’re trying to provide those answers," he said. "We don’t want to put out anything that’s wrong, and we want to get it right the first time."

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 Roberts said she does not plan to rebuild. Her house was spared from a homeless encampment fire in the same area two years ago. Her biggest issue now is whether she will stay in the neighborhood that she has called home for 52 years.

"I was never going to leave, but this fire has got me thinking that maybe this is the sign it’s time to move," she said.

Anyone with information on the string of arsons along I-580 between 35th Avenue and Coolidge, or Friday’s fire on Quigley Street, is asked to contact the Oakland Fire Department.