Gas thieves spark fire at Santa Rosa U‑Haul business

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Sonoma County sheriff’s investigators on Thursday continued their search for thieves suspected of stealing gas from rental trucks in Santa Rosa earlier this week, prompting a fire that destroyed two vehicles and damaged five others, authorities said.

Firefighters were called around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday about a possible explosion and structure fire at the U‑Haul Moving & Storage on Santa Rosa Avenue.

They found a pickup engulfed in flames, fire spreading to a nearby truck and a handful of other vehicles damaged. As firefighters put out the flames, they found signs of significant siphoning, Sonoma County Fire Capt. Fred Leuenberger said.

“There was quite a bit of siphoning of multiple trucks going on, multiple gas cans. Another vehicle still had a tube inserted into the gas tank,” Leuenberger said. “There were multiple funnels and large metal containers up and down the aisles of the rental vehicles.”

The gas thieves must have been deep into the operation when the Ford F‑150 pickup they were extracting gas from caught fire, Leuenberger said.

No one was at the property when firefighters arrived and a check of area hospitals for burn victims turned up no suspects.

It’s likely the fire started as a result of static electricity created during the transfer of the flammable liquid. If not done property, the vapors can ignite, said Cyndi Foreman, Sonoma County Fire District spokeswoman and fire prevention officer.

The U‑Haul business, at 3601 Santa Rosa Ave., rents moving vans, box trucks and pickups, as well as rental storage units.

Vehicle parts, such as catalytic converters or batteries, are more commonly stolen than fuel, sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Crum said.

“Thieves who steal gas tend to pick larger vehicles with bigger gas tanks,” Crum said. “The U‑Haul dealership was likely targeted due to the large gas tanks and the fact that customers return trucks with full gas tanks.”

The average price of regular gas in Santa Rosa on Wednesday was $4.07 per gallon, exceeding the statewide average by about 8 cents and the national average by roughly $1.25 cents, online data from AAA showed.

A gallon of regular gas cost an average of about $3.77 in Santa Rosa a year ago.

Sonoma County Fire, Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park fire agencies responded to the blaze.

Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@rossmannreport.

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