Amblin' Alameda: Arson

Amblin' Alameda: Arson

Morton Chalfy

Early on the morning of September 28, arsonists allegedly rampaged through downtown Alameda, setting seven blazes and unsettling us all. Three of the fires were within a half block of our house - which is certainly too close for comfort, especially during this season of unprecedented drought. Our reactions were shock, relief, anger that barely stopped short of rage and a real desire to see the perpetrators caught.

The police have arrested two men in their 20s, and no doubt the wheels of the legal system will grind toward a resolution. The punishments I'd like to inflict on them if they are guilty would amount to illegal torture in our system. Personally, I would never believe an arsonist has been rehabilitated any more than a serial child-molester can be.

During this fire season, when we've seen thousands of acres go up in flames because of the tinder dryness of the fuels, imagining fires raging out of control in Alameda sends chills down my spine. As an alternative to a really effective cure for the urge to arson we can only keep arsonists off the streets by locking them away, possibly for the rest of their lives.

It will be instructive to see how the courts rule in this case and what punishment they'll mete out. Meanwhile, we checked all our fire extinguishers for currency, rehearsed the various ways out of the house, set out pairs of shoes for emergency flight and changed the batteries on our smoke alarms. Little use against arson in the wee hours of the morning, but it did help us keep our awareness levels high.

The other side of this coin is the response of the fire and police departments to the fires. No lives were lost, though plenty of property was destroyed. The destruction will have grave effects on the people who suffered it, but the fire departments responded rapidly and effectively and the police made arrests in less than a day. Let's hope they caught the right people.

A very big thank you to both organizations. I'm grateful our guys were on the job.