Suspected arson fire in La Mesa

Scorches porta potty at Sunshine Park

A fire reported at 5:41 a.m. on January 4 destroyed two portable toilets and the wood-shake roof of nearby restrooms at Sunshine Park, according to La Mesa Police Department lieutenant Ray Sweeney.

Restrooms at the park, located on the 4500 block of 70th Street, were closed for renovations and the two "porta potties were set up" next to the building, Sweeney said in an interview.

Firefighters and police responded to the call. While firefighters put out the blaze, police closed 70th Street south of Tower Street to traffic on both sides of the street.

Firefighters extinguished the fire at the park — which is adjacent to Rolando Elementary School — and police reopened the street at 6:59 a.m., Sweeney said. At that time, there was yellow crime-scene tape across the door to the men's restroom. Evidence of the incident included the charred restroom roof and streams of firefighting foam near the building, on park paths, and in the street. In addition, fire singed the corner of the brick restroom to a darker color.

In his capacity as watch commander, Sweeney said on January 4 that "not a lot was known" about the fire. Someone may have set the porta potties on fire and the flames spread to vegetation and from there to the roof of the restroom. Sweeney added that someone may have started the fire in a trashcan, an act done at several other locations near the La Mesa-San Diego border. Sweeney said these include the area near Amherst Street.

The Reader contacted Heartland Fire & Rescue, which serves La Mesa, to learn about the other fires. Monica Zech, Heartland spokeswoman, said in a January 7 interview that San Diego Fire-Rescue Metro Arson Strike Team was handling the investigation because more of the spot fires occurred in San Diego.

UPDATE: 1/9, 7:30 a.m.

San Diego Fire Department spokesman Lee Swanson provided information about the other fires in a January 8 interview.

Although he could not comment on the arson investigation, Swanson said that a palm tree on the 7050 block of Amherst Street was set on fire at 2:20 a.m. on January 4; the fire caused "some damage" to the adjacent residence. At about the same time, there was another tree fire at 72nd Street and El Cajon Boulevard: at 3 a.m., a trashcan on the 7120 block of Amherst Street was set ablaze.

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