Latest News

Arson suspected in car fires

Arson is believed responsible for a fire that destroyed one car, extensively damaged another and extended into an apartment carport early Tuesday morning.

The 2:58 a.m. fire at 1540 Ellen Court caused $30,000 to $40,000 damage and could have extended into the adjoining apartment complex above the carport if it hadn't been quickly extinguished, Merced Fire Chief Ken Mitten said.

Merced police Sgt. Scott Skinner said there are no suspects in the fire that destroyed a 1986 Buick, extensively damaged a 1989 Acura and burned the carport. He said there have been several problems with arson fires in that neighborhood, and gang activity will be investigated.

Sgt. Alan Ward said the exact cause is unknown but the fire was determined to have been intentionally set.

Mitten said firefighters arrived at 3:01 a.m. Apartment residents were evacuated. The fire was under control in four minutes.

A trash bin on Ellen Court also had been set afire earlier, Mitten said.

Merced police investigated 63 arson cases in 2007 and 62 in 2006. From January through March, 13 arson cases were reported, compared with 14 for the same period last year, said Lance Eber, management analyst with the police.

The U.S. Fire Administration, a part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said young people are responsible for about 55 percent of all arson cases.

Police Sgt. Jay Struble, one of two arson investigators, said arson fires are hard to predict. But with good, solid investigative work, arson cases can be solved and the perpetrators can be successfully prosecuted, he said.

At 5:30 a.m. last Friday, an arsonist tossed a Molotov cocktail against the back wall of an apartment complex at 1560 Ellen Court, causing minor cosmetic damage to the dwelling.

Anyone with information about Tuesday's arson incidents is asked to call Skinner at (209) 385-4702 or the Tipster line at (209) 385-4725.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2485 or