ATWATER -- Authorities are investigating a recent spike in fires throughout Atwater that could be the work of an arsonist.
The fires started in December and lasted through January, but have since died down, said Atwater's Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jeff Isaacs. No arrests have been made.
"The amount of fires that we had immediately raised a red flag for us," he said. "On one of the fires, we went to a reported structure fire and immediately after that, we had two additional fires within two blocks of each other."
It didn't take long before the fire department was responding to two or three fires a week, which was up from the norm of two or three fires a month, Isaacs said.
Local fire personnel brought down investigators from Cal Fire's Fire Prevention and Law Enforcement Bureau to find the cause of the blazes.
"The investigation is still ongoing," he noted.
Though it's hard for fire officials to estimate the total amount of damage from the possible arson fires, Isaacs said it's well into the thousands of dollars.
During the span from December through January, there were about 20 fires that ranged from Dumpster fires to structure fires. At least three of the blazes were at apartment complexes.
"A large portion of the fires are very suspicious and arson is believed to play a part in a large portion of those," Isaacs said.
Fire officials didn't want to go into detail about what was found at the sources of the fires, since they're still searching for possible suspects.
Mayor Joan Faul said the city's had strings of fires in the past, but she couldn't recall anything to this extent.
Faul said she lives in Atwater for its services and first-rate public safety, and Cal Fire has been methodically investigating the latest fires from the start.
"We are very fortunate to have Cal Fire as our fire department," she said. "They've done an outstanding job for us."
Faul said it only takes one miscreant to create an issue such as this, thinking it's funny.
However, nothing's funny when someone's putting lives at risk by starting fires, Faul added. "The key thing is that we take things seriously," she said. "We all have to make a commitment to our community."
Though the cause of the fires remains a concern, officials say there isn't a risk to the public at this point.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.