Resident of destroyed Ukiah apartments suspected of setting fires

A young woman living in a Ukiah apartment complex devastated by fire earlier this week is suspected of having set the fire, a Mendocino County sheriff's sergeant reported.

Sheriff's detectives suspect the woman of setting 12 other Ukiah fires since October, Mendocino County sheriff's Sgt. Jason Caudillo said Wednesday.

"We're confident we know who it is," said Caudillo. "She's been under surveillance by our department the last three months."

But the fires remain under investigation and detectives don't have enough evidence to make an arrest, he said.

The blaze at the Fircrest Apartments complex was reported just after midnight Monday and spread quickly. An estimated 20 people were left homeless, and more than 40 people were evacuated.

"Obviously a lot of people are quite shaken up," said apartment complex co-owner Robert Sherwood, who spent most of Wednesday at the property returning security deposits and helping displaced tenants find new homes.

He and a partner have owned the 50-unit complex, which was built in 1979 and has no sprinkler system, since 1990. It is located at South State Street and Fircrest Drive in southern Ukiah. The units rent for just under $900, Sherwood said.

He said the hardest part of the aftermath has been seeing the tenant now suspected of setting the blaze walking around as though she is a victim of it.

The woman's apartment was one of the eight units damaged in the blaze.

Sherwood said he was in the process of evicting the woman, who had sublet one of the two bedrooms in her two-bedroom, one-bath unit to seven other people. The eviction paperwork had been delivered to the manager's office on Sunday evening.

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