Squatter site a total loss after ‘suspicious’ Arcata fire

Police looking for 'evidence and witnesses,' chief says

An early Sunday morning blaze destroyed a structure on a site just north of L K Wood Boulevard in Arcata. (Contributed)
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A small Arcata site burned to a total loss in an early Sunday morning fire that the city’s police department is investigating as suspicious.

No one was reported injured in the blaze, which raised a large column of smoke over the northern end of L K Wood Boulevard, just up the hill from the Camp Curtis Apartments complex.

Responding firefighters found no one present at the site of the fire, said Arcata Fire Batallion Chief Curt Watkins, who was off-duty the morning of the incident.

Firefighters quickly extinguished the burning structure. Authorities have not determined the cause or origin of the fire. Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn said officers are investigating the incident.

“We’re going to take our time and do a methodical investigation,” Ahearn said. “We’re looking for evidence and witnesses, just as we would in a criminal investigation. We want to make sure we do everything possible to identify the person or persons responsible and hold them accountable.”

The area served as an apparent gathering spot for homeless individuals until city officials recently determined the site was uninhabitable due to “hazardous and unhealthy” conditions, Ahearn said. Three weeks ago, officials told people occupying the site that they could no longer be there.

“There had certainly been some activity up in that area,” said city manager Karen Diemer, who said she found a garden-hose water connection at the area while reviewing the sites recently.

The site before the fire. (City of Arcata — Contributed)
The site on Monday afternoon after the fire. (Shomik Mukherjee — The Times-Standard)

The property has two listed owners: Paul Loach and Halnalea Boehm, Diemer said.

Clothes and disassembled bicycle parts were strewn across a closed-off uphill road leading to the site Monday afternoon. The structure itself was entirely collapsed and charred. A nearby blue-and-white trailer was unharmed, and so was the bed inside.

Ahearn said he wasn’t sure if homeless individuals were actually treating the area as a place-of-living, but residents of the Camp Curtis Apartments just down the road said squatters had fully occupied the site.

“Transients were cutting through the property fence with bolt cutters to get here from the highway,” said Ron Halladey, a resident at one of the apartments. “I’ve seen tons of drug paraphernalia up there.”

Discarded clothes and bicycle parts were strewn across the hill. (Shomik Mukherjee — The Times-Standard)

Jennifer Flores, who just came on as the property manager, said she was warned of “sketchy” activity going on up the road.

“They would come through the garbage disposal area,” Flores said. “They were coming in and taking bicycles and stuff.”

“I just hope everyone’s OK,” she added, “sketchy or not.”

A blue-and-white trailer was unharmed in the fire. (Shomik Mukherjee — The Times-Standard)

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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