Turlock police and firefighters were kept busy Wednesday night by an arsonist who started five fires in and around Donnelly Park between 9 and 10:30 p.m.
In each instance, a tree was set on fire, said Turlock Police Department spokesman Sgt. Russell Holeman. "Besides the trees, one fence received partial damage," he said.
A resident of Pomona Court, just north of the park, said he was looking out his front window, watching firefighters knock down a blaze on a tall tree down the street. "It's a huge tree and you could see the fire from half a block away, the sparks flying," said the man, who asked that his name not be used.
As he watched, he noticed a small SUV pull into the court, going very slowly. It pulled up in front of the mailbox at his home, where there are three Italian cypress trees. A white male, probably in his early 20s, got out, tucked something into the tree, lighted it, got back in the vehicle and drove off. It all happened very quickly, the resident said.
"I saw his arm go in there," he said, explaining that the Italian cypress is "kind of more like a bush, and you can reach into the center of the tree."
The resident ran outside, saw that the fire was taking hold, and raced to tell the nearby firefighters. "They were just around the corner, so they got here probably within 30 seconds" and had the fire out quickly.
Fire Department arson investigators worked alongside officers, Holeman said. "We ask anyone who may have seen a suspicious person or vehicle in or around the Donnelly Park area during this time, or who may have a video recording of a suspicious vehicle or person in or around the surrounding neighborhood, to call TPD."
Holeman said there have been no similar incidents recently and the arsonist apparently used no accelerant. "Not sure how he was getting the fire to take."
Anyone with information may contact Turlock police at 209-668-5550.