Palm Springs, CA

Rise in suspicious fires has business owners on edge

The Palm Springs Post
This fire at the intersection of North Belardo Road and Merito Place on June 12 is one of multiple suspected of being intentionally set.The Palm Springs Post

An alarming increase in fires suspected to be set intentionally in recent weeks has business owners in Palm Springs fearing the worst and authorities looking for help.

“It’s my store this time, but God forbid it’s somebody else’s store next time,” Hal Lewis told fellow business owners Tuesday morning during a Zoom meeting of the Main Street Palm Springs business association. “It’s scaring me. … This is happening again and again and again and again.”

What’s happening, according to police and fire officials who spoke during the meeting, is frightening not only for local business owners, but for them as well. A review of hundreds of pages of emergency call logs by The Post shows dozens of suspicious fires have been reported in the city during the past 30 days. Authorities suspect palm trees, garbage dumpsters, empty fields and even buildings are being intentionally lit on fire downtown.

“I’ve had to call dispatch three different times for my business,” Lewis said. “… We put cameras up and they are taken down by people. I feel like my hands are tied and I’m grateful no buildings have been burned down.”

Though many in the community suspect members of the city’s homeless population are to blame, Palm Springs Fire Department Capt. Nathan Gunkel said that without evidence authorities are unable to confirm the suspicions.

“A lot of this is in areas without cameras,” Gunkel said. “By the time we get there — clearly this is something man caused — but people don’t want to get involved.”

Gunkel emphasized that simply reporting a fire will not be enough to bring an end to the spree.

“Any time there’s a fire the fire department should be called,” Gunkel said. “The biggest problem is that people are calling 911 to report a fire started. They may see something, but they don’t stick around.

“We need a witness,” he added. “The best thing you can do is be a good witness. … We are a community and we’ve always worked together very well. That’s what we need to continue to keep doing.”

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