‘Suspicious’ fire in San Diego scorches home of former legislator Lorena Gonzalez
Authorities are investigating a “suspicious” fire that scorched the San Diego home of former Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher early Wednesday.
The couple and their children got out safely after waking up to smoke alarms about 4 a.m. and finding the front door of their home “engulfed in flames,” Fletcher said in a statement.
He said they got out of the house through another door.
“Our family is safe and for us, that is all that matters,” he said in a statement that Gonzalez also shared on Twitter.
Fletcher said police and fire crews arrived quickly, and he is grateful for their efforts.
“It is going to be fine — we are good, we are healthy, everyone is safe and the rest of it doesn’t really matter,” Fletcher told Fox 5 San Diego.
“We’re grateful for that and grateful the firefighters were here, like immediately,” he said. “We had police officers, again, literally as we were going out one door, they were kicking in another one. And we really appreciate and value them.”
San Diego Police Sgt. Rick Pechin said investigators believe the fire was suspicious, but he would not say how or where the blaze started. He said the Metro Arson Strike Team — composed of police and fire investigators — is handling the investigation.
Hours after the incident in the City Heights neighborhood, police spokesman Lt. Adam Sharki released a statement that contained few additional details but confirmed that the fire was “being treated as suspicious in nature.”
The fire, which was contained to the front of the home, caused about $30,000 in damage to the house and an additional $6,000 in damage to a parked vehicle, San Diego Fire-Rescue spokesperson Mónica Muñoz said.
The blaze also burned a U.S. flag outside the home, according to a tweet from Fletcher, a former Marine who served two combat tours. Before they cleared out, fire crews gave the family a new flag, Fletcher said. He tweeted a photo of it flying a few feet from the home’s blackened facade.
“This really means something to my family,” he said. “Thank you.”
Gonzalez retweeted the image, with a thank you to the firefighters. “It’s the little things,” she said.
Fletcher on Tuesday was elected by fellow supervisors to a second term as chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, and he headed up a board meeting hours after the fire Wednesday.
He has risen to increasing political prominence over the last several years as a primary proponent of the county’s COVID-19 policies — a stance for which he has received consistent criticism. In many ways, he’s been the face of the region’s pandemic response alongside Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer.
Public comments made during the county’s COVID-19 updates have long featured hours of angry yelling over public health restrictions, reaching a new level of vitriol a few months ago.
At one November meeting, one speaker expressed a wish that three of the five county supervisors, including Fletcher, would die or be killed, and used a racial slur against Wooten, who is Black.
Gonzalez resigned last week after eight years in the Assembly — leaving her powerful position as the chair of the Appropriations Committee. She stepped down to lead the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, one of the state’s most influential labor organizations.
Both Gonzalez and Fletcher have spoken publicly about receiving death threats. In February 2020, Gonzalez told The Times she’d faced them during a 2019 legislative debate over exemptions to school vaccination rules.
Amid COVID-19 vaccine pushback last summer, some members of the public lobbed personal attacks at Board of Supervisors meetings. Fletcher told CBS 8 San Diego that he “dealt with threats for the last year and a half, death threats and people coming to our house and all of that — at the end of the day, I’m not going to back down from what I know is the right thing to do, which is trust our doctors.”
Threats and attacks against elected officials have been on the rise, said Rachel Locke, director of Impact: Peace, a program of the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at University of San Diego.
“If [the fire] were an attack, it would really not surprise me, given the state of what we are seeing locally, globally and nationally,” Locke said.
The homes of local leaders have increasingly drawn attention in recent years, usually in connection to protests.
In the summer of 2020, demonstrations took place in the neighborhoods where former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Sheriff Bill Gore live.
That May, a couple of dozen people gathered in Mission Hills to protest the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department’s plan to resume evictions that were ordered before the pandemic and the subsequent bans on evictions. One month later and after the killing of George Floyd, about 100 protesters marched through Point Loma, calling on Faulconer to defund the San Diego Police Department.
Last year, a group gathered in Mission Hills near the home of San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria to protest the city’s policies on homelessness. During that incident, a man who was not part of the demonstration got into an altercation with protesters and was accused of threatening to shoot the group before firing a handgun.
San Diego Union-Tribune staff writers David Hernandez and Karen Kucher contributed to this report.
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