"Potty Pyro" arsonist at large on SF State campus

SF State
SF State students gather around the west exit of the Humanities Building as a firefighter scales a ladder to the top of the structure. Photo by Sam Battles / Xpress

An arsonist has struck four times this semester, nearly matching the total number of arson-related incidents in the past four years.

Four fires have been reported on campus since the beginning of the semester, one in the J. Paul Leonard Library and three in the Humanities Building.

University police confirmed the four fires are the work of an arsonist.

“University police are working with the San Francisco Fire Department to address three fires to restrooms in the Humanities Building, believed to be the work of an arsonist,” Reggie Parson, deputy chief of University police, said.

Toilet paper was set on fire in the J. Paul Leonard Library Oct. 3. Officers responded when a student flagged them down, but police don’t have any leads.

The most recent fire started in the fourth floor men’s restroom on the north side of the building Oct. 18, the third to ignite in the Humanities Building. The fire alarm went off for 45 minutes without evacuation of the building, according to students.

The first fire took place Sept. 18 in the third floor men’s restroom on the north side around 7:12 p.m. Students were evacuated after fire alarms sounded and were not let back into the building until police could assure student safety, at approximately 8 p.m.

“I opened the door and on the floor the top of the trash can was on fire,” said Thomas Figg-Hobly, an SF State journalism student who saw the fire in the trash can. He said that campus police responded quickly and extinguished the small blaze.

While the incident was not immediately ruled as arson, the San Francisco Fire Department advised the University police department that the fires were set on purpose.

Another trash can was lit on fire Oct. 2 in the second floor men’s bathroom, also on the north side, at approximately 7:10 p.m. UPD’s biggest concern was the failure of the fire alarm, which did not activate.

“What we are trying to do is find out why the fire alarms didn’t go off,” University police officer Tim Barber said.

A total of four arson incidents occurred on campus in 2008, followed by none in 2009 and 2010. In 2011, there was only one reported arson incident on campus, and one within the residence community, according to statistics provided in the 2012 Campus Security and Fire Report.

No one was harmed in any of the four incidents this year and there was no structural damage, according to Parson.

Efforts are focused on both conducting an investigation regarding the fires that have occurred and preventing additional fires, he said.

Anyone who has information or leads related to these incidents is encouraged to call UPD’s anonymous tip line at (415) 338-3030.