MERCED — Two days after his family's home was left a burned-out shell, Hector Berber washed cars with some 20 friends in the parking lot of his high school.
His friends and schoolmates hastily threw together the car wash, a fund-raiser for Berber's family, after they learned Berber's home had burned along with two others in what could have been a streak of arson.
The fires occurred within blocks of each other between 2 and 4 a.m. Saturday.
An arson dog from Fresno indicated combustible liquids may have been used at each of the homes, and officials are treating the fires as suspicious.
Merced City Fire Chief Ken Mitten said the department is waiting on the results of lab tests to determine if the fires are related.
One home, at 815 Olive Ave., was vacant at the time of the fire, and it appears several fires were set throughout the home, Merced City Fire Division Chief Steve Raney said. The fire on Sycamore Avenue appears to have started on the porch or near the front door. The third fire started on the outside of a home on Alexander Avenue. It was extinguished by a neighbor before it could do much damage, Raney said.
Berber, 18, a senior at Merced High School, shakes his head at the thought someone set the fires.
"I hope they catch the guys and we can get them before somebody gets hurt. I don't want anyone to have happen to them what happened to us," he said.
"All you think about is getting out. We all ran out of the house in our underwear," said Matias Calderon, Berber's father. "We stood out there for about 45 minutes watching our house burn in our underwear until we realized it and some neighbors brought us some clothes to put on."
Raney urged residents to be alert to any suspicious activity they see in their neighborhoods and not hesitate to call police.
"I wouldn't think there would be any reason to be alarmed, but there is a possibility it could happen again," he said.