Arrest made after fire guts Tustin apartment building

Firefighters at a burned-out building
Firefighters check for hot spots after a fire early Wednesday at a two-story apartment complex in Tustin.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Authorities Wednesday arrested a man on suspicion of setting a fire that tore through an Orange County apartment building, gutting dozens of apartments, collapsing the roof and displacing about 100 tenants.

Patrick Andrew Ceniceros, 59, of Tustin was arrested Wednesday night on suspicion of arson, Tustin Police Lt. Andrew Birozy said.

“Just thank God that we’re not booking him for murder,” given the potentially deadly blaze, he added.


It wasn’t immediately clear whether Ceniceros had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

Two people suffered smoke inhalation as flames raged through the two-story building in the Chatham Village apartment complex about 3 a.m. Wednesday, the Orange County Fire Authority said.

Residents said police officers pounded on doors and told people there was a fire.

“We were sleeping, you know, it was in the middle of the night. Out of nowhere this loud noise of knocking — boom, boom, boom on the door. ‘Get out, the apartment’s on fire,’” resident Heidi Murillo told KABC-TV Channel 7.

The roof collapsed 25 minutes into the fire. No first responders were injured.

About 120 firefighters put out the blaze after five hours, and 38 of the 40 apartments burned, authorities said.

About 100 people were displaced, and many huddled in blankets in the predawn cold. American Red Cross volunteers set up a care center for the displaced residents.

Birozy said Ceniceros was arrested after he came to the front counter of the police station and offered to speak to detectives.


“He just showed up saying he wanted to talk to us,“ Birozy said. “He made some incriminating statements that led us to believe he was involved in arson at that complex.“

Ceniceros had some connection to the building but it wasn’t immediately clear whether he was a resident, Birozy added.

There was no immediate word on the motive, he said.