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Woman arrested on suspicion of arson in Fountaingrove blaze

A woman remained in jail Monday on suspicion of intentionally lighting a 1-acre brush fire near a Fountaingrove business park Sunday morning.

Kathryn Nichols, 42, of Santa Rosa, was also named as the suspect in a theft and attempted extortion case that occurred about two hours before the fire began, Santa Rosa police Sgt. Patricia Seffens said.

The fire was spotted on a hillside near Old Redwood Highway north of Fountaingrove Parkway at about 11:14 a.m. Sunday, Seffens said. Several people driving by the blaze dialed 911 to report a naked woman running and attempting to hide in the area.

Officers located Nichols, who was naked, at a parking lot soon after they arrived. Nichols admitted she started the fire, Seffens said, and allegedly kicked an officer in the shin when police attempted to arrest her.

The blaze was contained in about 20 minutes. Firefighters traced its origin to a small pile of belongings, reportedly owned by Nichols, left near a tree on the property, Assistant Fire Marshal Paul Lowenthal said.

“After (Nichols) assaulted the officers, she was detained quickly and without further incident or injuries to anyone,” Seffens said.

Nichols, who is homeless, was then identified by a Santa Rosa police officer as the suspect in a case involving a stolen cellphone and passport earlier Sunday morning, Seffens said. The items were taken at about 9 a.m from a car parked on Mendocino Avenue roughly a mile south of the fire. With an officer present, the victims called the stolen phone and talked to someone who demanded $30,000 for the return of the phone and passport.

Surveillance footage helped officers identify Nichols as the suspect in the theft after her arrest in the arson case, Seffens said.

“We believe there are some mental health issues. However, based on her conversations with the victims, we believe that she was aware of what she was doing and that it was wrong,” Seffens said.

Nichols, who is from Kansas but whose contact with local law enforcement spans back as far as 2014, was booked into the Sonoma County Jail on suspicion of attempted extortion, grand theft, arson and battery on a peace officer, Seffens said.

She was arrested by Healdsburg officers on Saturday night in connection with a vehicle theft, though she was released from jail early Sunday morning, Seffens said.

Nichols was held on $100,000 bail and scheduled to appear in court Tuesday afternoon, online jail records show.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

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