Authorities suspect arson in Ukiah apartment complex blaze

UKIAH — An arsonist suspected in a dozen fires may have set a midnight blaze at a Ukiah apartment building that destroyed several units and forced some families to jump to safety from second-story windows.

The fire would be the 13th in a string of suspected blazes since October near the South State Street Fircrest Apartments complex, Mendocino County Sheriff's Sgt. Jason Caudillo said.

The last suspicious fire was last Tuesday when a parked car apparently was set ablaze. One of the other fires also involved a car near the complex, Caudillo said.

A dog trained in arson detection Monday morning found an accelerant near the threshold of one of the apartments and in a foyer near a staircase leading to apartments.

Caudillo said Monday's fire was the first suspicious blaze inside the complex.

Ten other incidents with two of the destroyed apartments that faced the street also were linked to Monday's fire. Those fires did not take place within the complex but were set in nearby areas, Caudillo said.

Cotton balls dipped in accelerant found at several of the suspicious fires appear to tie the cases together, Caudillo said. In one case, the cotton balls had been found behind light switches.

Caudillo said authorities don't have a motive for the arson and detectives are looking at "people of interest" but there was no specific suspect.

"They all have similarities, and we believe one or more people to be involved," he said.

The fast-moving blaze destroyed about eight apartments and damaged four more with smoke, heat and water, Ukiah Fire Chief John Bartlett said.

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