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Arson Investigators Hope to Close In on UCSB Apartment Fire Clues Next Week

Series of 5 suspicious blazes destroyed student housing complex under construction west of campus, left 4 other buildings in ruins

A suspected arson fire that raged through an unfinished housing complex on UC Santa Barbara property last week is still under investigation by authorities, although more answers as to how and why it started may come as early as next week, according to the state agency looking into the circumstances.

On July 4, 60-foot flames could be seen leaping out of the Sierra Madre Apartments, a student housing project that is under construction at the corner of Storke Road and Whitter Drive in Goleta.

A call reporting the fire came in at 3:30 a.m. and the blaze was knocked down by fire crews within an hour.

There were five separate fires at the same time, including the framing of the apartment complex as well as three construction trailers and an abandoned building from the former Ocean Meadows Golf Course. Officials quickly announced they considered the fire suspicious.

The cause of the fire has not been released, “but witnesses reported seeing a white male leaving the construction site at the time the fires started, then fleeing west toward the UCSB North Campus Open Space,” UCSB police said in a statement last week. Authorities offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved.

CalFire is heading up the investigation because the fire occurred on UC campus property, which is state owned, according to CalFire spokesman Dennis Mathisen.

The State Fire Marshal’s office, which is a part of CalFire, is the fire authority in the case and the investigation is being run in coordination with the local CalFire unit, arson investigators from the Fire Marshal’s office as well as campus police and the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

Although the investigation is ongoing, investigators “should be wrapping up over the next two days, and I would expect some kind of conclusions next week,” Mathisen said.

Mathisen said he had heard the fire had caused at least $10 million in damage, but he added that CalFire investigators had no information on a damage estimate.

“We’re not sure where that came from and, ultimately, we would rely on the insurance company to release those numbers,” he said.

George Foulsham, news director of the UCSB Office of Public Affairs & Communications, said Friday that a damage estimate had not yet been determined.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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