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Four arrested in dozens of Northern California fires set over the weekend

By Christian Martinez

LOS ANGELES — Four people have been arrested on suspicion of arson after firefighters responded to dozens of small fires in Northern California last weekend.

In less than 48 hours, the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District responded to more than 30 small fires. They were reported in four clusters within 15 miles from late Friday through Sunday, with many of them occurring near homes and businesses and along roadways, said fire district spokesman Steve Hill.

County officials alleged the fires were set intentionally. It did not appear that any of the suspects were connected, Hill said.

"It's pretty unusual to have so many intentionally set fires in a relatively short period of time," Hill said. "It's probably even more unusual to have four suspected arsonists arrested as a result."

As in Southern California, where multiple brush fires were burning as of Thursday evening, fire conditions in the Bay Area county east of San Francisco were dangerous, but the Contra Costa fires were extinguished quickly and major incidents were avoided.

"This is a bad time because of the dangerous conditions we have right now," Hill said.

Victor Esquivias-Jaime, 45, was arrested around 3 a.m. May 7 on eight counts of arson to forest land. Around noon that day, Davin Wilson, 42, of Concord was arrested on suspicion of six counts of arson. Michael Darder, 36, of Antioch was arrested around 10 p.m. on suspicion of arson and resisting arrest.

A fourth person was arrested Sunday in connection with another series of fires, but authorities did not release the suspect's identity, citing the ongoing investigation.

One of the suspects was arrested at his home and at least two were arrested at or near the scenes of fires, Hill said.

"While we were putting out fires nearby … one of [the suspects] was seen setting a fire nearby," he said, adding that witnesses reported another suspect was seen leaving the scene of one fire and in the area of another fire.

Hill did not say where how the fourth suspect was identified or arrested.

Early reporting by residents kept the fires from growing into large, destructive blazes, Hill said.

"We were able to get on the scenes of these fires pretty quickly and keep them small and limit damage," he said.

Hill also credited the "overwhelming" response by fire crews; just before the blazes, the fire protection district increased the number of engines dispatched to vegetation fires, he said.

"We had just started beginning last Friday with wildfire responses, meaning that we judged the danger to be so great that we were going to begin dispatching five engines to every exterior vegetation fire," Hill said. "It was good timing."

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