Arson suspect linked to 30 fires caught in Northern California

It started in April, with small fires on the side of highways in Contra Costa County.

There was a pattern to them, investigators thought.

By late spring, dozens of these small fires were popping up -- and now they were igniting in neighboring counties. In some cases, the flames were so close to homes that residents were alerted for possible evacuations, authorities say.

But on Wednesday, investigators with the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection announced that they’ve put a lid on the mysterious fires with the arrest of James William Wilson, 29.

According to the agencies, Wilson is responsible for at least 30 fires ignited along State Routes 4 and 24 in Contra Costa County and elsewhere this year.

He was arrested without incident in Bay Point on suspicion of eight counts of arson and is being held on $1 million bail. The high bail is because some of these fires were started during state-declared emergencies, officials said.


Wilson’s capture marks the second serial-arson arrest by CalFire this week.

On Monday, authorities arrested Tracey Webb, 34, of Redding, after investigators connected her to more than a dozen fires sparked along Highway 299 and Old Oregon Trail, the agency said.

The Redding fires were not connected to the 22 wildfires that burned across the state Tuesday, the agency said.

While neither suspects’ alleged fires turned into out-of-control blazes, it doesn’t take much to turn a small spark into a massive blaze, CalFire said.

California is enduring its fourth year of drought, and a series of thunderstorms have been sparking thousands of small fires across the northern half of the state for weeks. There are currently 23 major wildfires in California with more than 10,000 firefighters battling them.

The largest blaze, the Rocky fire, is burning across three counties near Napa Valley and has scorched more than 68,000 acres. It was 20% contained Wednesday afternoon and has destroyed dozens of homes.

Staff writer Veronica Rocha contributed to this report.

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