A fourth suspected arson fire stuns Castro district

A fourth possible arson fire has struck the Castro district in just over a day.

Investigators are probing a blaze at a Victorian home at 18th and Collingswood streets that started around 4:30 a.m. Friday. Police say a piece of plastic was burning in front of the doorway. It was put out before firefighters arrived, they said.

The fire happened at around the same time and in the same area as three suspected arson fires that broke out Thursday morning, two of which severely damaged Victorian homes, fire spokeswoman Lt. Mindy Talmadge said.

Friday’s suspicious fire caused minor damages, and no injuries were reported.

Investigators are hunting a serial arsonist.

Friday’s three blazes broke out in the Castro over about an hour.

Firefighters first put out a “very simple” fire in a recycling bin or can around 4:25 a.m. at 2155 15th St., Talmadge said. Fire officials initially reported the fire began in a trashcan.

Only minutes later, firefighters battled two raging apartment building infernos just blocks away — one at the corner of 17th and Hartford streets and the other near Market and 16th streets.

No one was injured in those fires except for a firefighter, who suffered a minor ankle wound while battling one of the blazes, Talmadge said.

Thirteen residents were displaced by the fire on 16th Street. The 17th Street structure was undergoing renovation and was unoccupied.

That building’s owner, 45-year-old Brian Kendall, said he and his family, which includes his child, moved out the building six weeks ago to allow for construction. The fires were “clearly” the work of arsonists, Kendall said.

“Supposedly over [at 3620 16 St.] they dumped accellerent on the front doors and tried to burn the people alive,” he said. “Here [17th Street] they went around back and just found a little hidden corner and started the fire over there.”

Brian Kendall, the owner of one of the destroyed buildings, said just days before the fires, officers arrested a “deranged” homeless man who had threatened to set the Castro ablaze, but police were unable to confirm that.

Arson investigators have yet to determined a motive. But because of where the fires took place — The City’s famously gay-friendly neighborhood — they are not ruling out the possibility the arsons are a hate crime.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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