A local homeless man has been arrested for allegedly starting a fire that spread throughout a vacant downtown building Thursday, according to the Santa Barbara Police Department.
The two-alarm blaze was reported shortly after noon at 530 Chapala St. in a building that formerly housed Montecito Motors, according to Sgt. Riley Harwood.
Firefighters arrived to find flames shooting through the roof of the building, but later contained the fire and no injuries were reported.
Investigators believe that Andrew Gordon Easton, 41, a homeless man, started a small fire in the area earlier that morning to keep warm, Harwood said.
Easton was arrested for unlawfully causing a structure fire without malice, a felony, Harwood said.
The fire was spotted by traffic officers in the area, as well as multiple witnesses who called 9-1-1.
Harwood said investigators located a witness who saw a subject extinguishing what appeared to be a small warming fire at the point of ignition at 8:20 a.m. that morning.
“The witness recognized the subject as a transient who frequently sleeps in the area,” Harwood said.
Another witness reported smelling the odor of smoke at approximately 9 a.m., but assumed that it was the smell of chimney smoke from a nearby residence.
Fire Department investigators determined that wood trim surrounding an outside door to the building ignited, and the blaze was likely started by an open flame.
Police officers familiar with the downtown homeless population knew that Easton frequently camped near the location of the fire, and an officer located Easton two blocks away from the scene at 12:30 p.m.
“Investigation ultimately determined that Easton was the subject seen extinguishing a fire at the ignition point earlier that morning,” Harwood said, adding that Easton declined to make a statement to investigators regarding the fire.
Easton was booked into the Santa Barbara County Jail with bail set at $20,000.