Does An Arsonist Lurk Among Barstow’s 22,639 Residents?

BARSTOW — Concern is growing in San Bernardino County’s fifth-smallest city that an arsonist may be lurking among its 22,639 residents.
Last weekend at 3:39 a.m. Sunday morning, firefighters responded to a house fire in the 100 block of West Fredricks Street. The house, well under 1,000-square feet with a single bedroom and bathroom, was fully engulfed in flames. In short order, the two responding fire engines knocked the fire down, which did not spread.
The quick response and the success in dousing the conflagration belied a troubling trend. The residence was unoccupied. Fire inspectors were unable to establish a cause for the fire. And while it is not impossible that the fire was sparked by some yet unknown but explicable and non-deliberate means, this is the fifth such unexplained fire in a vacant structure in Barstow since January 1.
By contrast, there were only three fires in occupied dwellings within the 41.4 square mile city and its surrounding sphere of influence during the same time frame. Logically and statistically, fires in structures where there is constant human activity, including open flames and active electrical outlets, is more common than where no such hazards are present.
Though fires in vacant structures normally pose less of a hazard to human life than in occupied ones, the chance of a fire reaching an advanced stage before contact with a firefighting force to give warning is greater, which can in turn pose a hazard to other structures, occupied or not.
Officially, the Barstow Fire Protection District has not suggested or implied a link between the fires in vacant housing and any arsonist activity or intent.
There are grounds to conclude that the first fire in a vacant home in Barstow this year, which occurred in January in the 1400 block of Riverside Drive may not have been arson but the product of a warming fire started by a homeless individual or individuals on that house’s patio which spread to the house, although that cause is not certain.
After winter passed and the weather began to heat up, firefighters on May 8 responded to a fire at vacant home at 116 W. Fredricks St. That fire was far more suspicious in nature and it destroyed the entire structure. Three days later, on May 11, there was a fire at a vacant structure in the 1300 block of Nancy Street. One week later, on May 18 a 700-square foot duplex in the 1600 block of Riverside Drive was consumed by fire.
There were no injuries in any of the five blazes in unoccupied dwellings.
Barstow, a desert railroad town that a century ago was the county’s fourth-leading population center and which was incorporated as a municipality in 1947 prior to the incorporation of 15 of San Bernardino County’s current 24 municipalities, has been losing ground to many other cities in terms of population size ranking over the last several decades. Like Barstow, another desert community, Trona, which was formerly a significant mining center at the farthest extension of San Bernardino County within the Mojave Desert at its borders with Kern and Inyo counties, has dropped in population significantly beginning almost three decades ago when the Kerr-McGee Corporation began to limit its operations there. As some of Trona’s residential neighborhoods began to sustain vacancies, a firebug descended on that community, destroying fully or partially some two dozen of the homes there.

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