SAN JOSE — San Jose firefighters are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a serial arsonist who has set fire to a number of buildings in the downtown area since Wednesday, endangering the lives of residents and firefighters alike.
Since Wednesday, the city has experienced a dozen fires within a small geographic area bounded by East Julian Street and William Street, and 17th and 33rd streets.
At least eight of those have been confirmed as arson, Deputy Chief John Dellinger said.
Buildings targeted for arson have included a church, commercial buildings and five single-family homes, Dellinger said.
Fire officials released a sketch Saturday of a person of interest in the arson attacks, who is described as a white or Hispanic adult male 25 to 40 years old, 6 feet to 6 feet 2 inches tall with a thin build, around 160 to 180 pounds,
The suspect has dark medium length hair and has been seen wearing dark clothes and distinctive large framed glasses, Dellinger said.
A San Jose city councilman also warned residents to be on the lookout for the serial arsonist.
City Councilman Sam Liccardo spearheaded an effort on Sunday to stop the arsonist by distributing flyers with a sketch of the man and asking people to take preventative measures to safeguard their homes and property.
"We'll be knocking on doors and passing out multi-language flyers throughout our affected Downtown neighborhoods to distribute the image of the arson suspect," Liccardo said in a statement.
Liccardo, who also passed out batteries for smoke detectors, met with residents at 17th and Santa Clara streets, just blocks from where two of the most recent arson fires were set early Sunday morning.
The first fire on Sunday, which was extinguished by residents before firefighters arrived, was reported at about 1:55 a.m. in the first block of South 24th Street, fire Capt. Barry Ehlers said.
A second s fire was reported in a parking lot behind Great Saint John Baptist Church, located at South 26th and East San Antonio streets, at about 5 a.m., Ehlers said.
A trailer in the lot, which had been damaged in a suspicious fire set on Wednesday, was damaged again before firefighters responded and quickly extinguished the blaze, Ehlers said.
No one was injured in either fire.
The $10,000 reward is being offered by San Jose Firefighters Local 230 because the fires endanger both residents and firefighters, said Robert Sapien, union president and battalion chief for Battalion 1.
"These fires have targeted San Jose residents in the darkest hours of the night when they are most vulnerable," Sapien said. "We have been very fortunate that these fires have not resulted in serious injury or death to our residents."
"Should these fires continue, I fear our good fortune will not continue," Sapien said.
Sapien said the fires have been difficult for firefighters to fight too because they start on the exterior of the building where they have plenty of oxygen and spread quickly.
During one of the incidents, an elderly coupled escaped with their life from a 2-alarm fire in their home at East St. John and 17th streets Saturday morning with the help of Good Samaritans who saw the flames, according to fire officials.
A resident out for a run around 4:20 a.m. spotted the flames coming from the one-story Victorian and attempted to wake the residents and alert neighbors, before running to a nearby fire station to report the fire, San Jose fire Capt. Barry Ehlers said.
Fire crews arrived to find the home engulfed in flames, but by the neighbors had helped the couple outside, Ehlers said.
"You had Good Samaritans...and luckily no one got injured," Ehlers said.
Firefighters also found the couple's pet cat inside the home and brought it outside to safety, he said.
Crews attacked the blaze for nearly two hours before declaring it under control.
The firefight was made even tougher due to the home's roof collapsing around 4:35 a.m., according to Ehlers.
He said the fire appears to have started near the house's rear porch area and quickly spread to its roof.
The blaze displaced the elderly couple, who are receiving housing assistance from the American Red Cross.
Ehlers estimated the fire caused at least $200,000 in damage to the century-old home.
Anyone with information should contact the San Jose Fire Department at (408) 277-8952