EXCLUSIVE: Emergency calls detail drama of fires

EXCLUSIVE: Emergency calls detail drama of fires

Michele Ellson
Angela's restaurant

Emergency calls placed in the wee hours of September 28 paint a dramatic picture of the impact of a series of fires that ripped through a seven-block radius on and around Park Street, recordings obtained by The Alamedan show.

“There’s a woman screaming for help. There’s a fire in the back of her house. She’s screaming for help. Hurry!” a woman who called at 1:37 a.m. about a fire at a home on the 1300 block of Regent Street told dispatchers.

While on hold, a woman – whether it’s the same caller or another is unclear – can be heard telling another person to go to the neighbor yelling for help.

“There’s a huge fire over there. I thought I heard something,” the caller can be heard telling her companion. “You gotta get around there. She’s yelling for help. Can you hear her?”

Firefighters rescued an elderly woman who lived in an in-law unit behind the home. The fire, which started at the back of the main residence, caused an estimated $100,000 worth of damage.

Several calls reporting the fire came from residents on the 2500 block of San Jose Avenue, where one of the suspects, Stephen Michael Petersen, was arrested that morning. None of the 911 calls obtained by The Alamedan contained reports about suspect sightings.

Residents called in fires from their apartments on the 2200 block of Encinal Avenue and the 1600 block of Park Street, where a three-alarm fire started at the rear of several buildings caused an estimated $2.6 million in damage.

“Hello? Hello? My house is on fire!” said panicked-sounding woman who called at 4:09 a.m. from her residence on the 1600 block of Park Street, a time stamp on the recording showed. Another man who took the phone from her told a dispatcher the fire was in a parking lot behind Brite 1-Hour Cleaners and Jim’s Coffee Shop.

Fires on the 2200 block of San Antonio Avenue and 1500 block of Park Street were called in from passers-by on their way home from work, the calls show. The fire on the 2200 block of San Antonio caused an estimated $300,000 in damage to a Victorian home that had been divided into apartments.

Callers reported smelling smoke from the fires as far as Marina Village and the 500 block of Willow Street. Public safety officials originally reported that a fire had occurred on that block after receiving a report of smoke from a caller working at a rehabilitation facility there.

The Alamedan is not publishing the audio of the calls because they contain callers’ addresses and phone numbers.

The fires caused an estimated $3 million on damage, most of it to businesses and residences on the 1600 block of Park Street. All told, firefighters battled seven blazes at homes and businesses in the early morning hours of September 28.

Police arrested Petersen, 27, of Alameda and Andrew Michael Resto, 22, in connection with the fires, and both are being held at Santa Rita Jail in lieu of bail. Petersen has a bail hearing scheduled for today, while Gutierrez is scheduled to enter a plea.

In a set of jailhouse interviews with a reporter from the Bay Area News Group, Petersen maintained his innocence, and friends of his – who have said he was at work when the first few fires were set – have held fundraisers to try to cover his $375,000 bail. Petersen was in police custody by 2:30 a.m., before several other fires were set.

Gutierrez, who is being held in lieu of $620,000 bail, told the reporter he set one of the fires. Police released a video of a man they identified as Gutierrez at the scene of one of the fires.

Police have maintained that they believe they arrested the right men.

The city, community groups and businesses have set up a pancake breakfast to raise money for fire victims, which is set to take place from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. this Sunday in the Rathskeller at the Alameda Elks Lodge, 2255 Santa Clara Avenue. The suggested donation is $20 for adults, $15 for children ages 6-17 and $60 for a family.

Tickets are available at the door, and additional information is available by calling 390-6608 or e-mailing mark@alamedachamber.com. Donations are also being accepted by the American Red Cross Bay Area.

American Oak restaurant owner Melanie Hartman has set up a separate fundraiser, Sunday Fund Day, on October 26. A number of Park Street area restaurants are participating in the fundraiser for Angela's restaurant, which was destroyed by the fires. More information will be available in Fridays' Alameda Business Buzz piece on The Alamedan.

An Angela’s restaurant customer has also set up a separate Go Fund Me campaign to raise money for the restaurant, which was set to re-open in a new Park Street space that was destroyed by the fires.

Friends of Petersen’s are accepting donations toward his bail online, and a series of fundraisers is being held for him.

Related: Updated: Two arrested in connection with string of apparent arson fires

Friends question arrest of arson suspect