The San Francisco Bay Area has, quite literally, been on fire.
In recent months, there have been multiple mysterious fires in Oakland and San Francisco, particularly among apartment buildings and storefronts.
Early Friday morning, a construction site near Oakland’s Lake Merritt caught fire. The four-alarm blaze essentially destroyed the new mixed-use project that was set for completion in early 2018.
In the past 12 months, three other similar fires have occurred in the area, according to The Mercury News. The other incidents include two Emeryville fires that occurred within less than a year of each other at The Intersection apartment complex on San Pablo Avenue, with the first one happening in July 2016 and the second in May of this year.
There was also an October 2016 five-alarm fire in Oakland at a property located on Lester Avenue, which was being developed into a five-story building with 41 apartments.
Luckily — unlike the tragic Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse fire — there were no serious injuries or fatalities in the other aforementioned situations. However, the incidents do raise questions about why there has been a sudden uptick in fires around the Bay.
Across the bridge in San Francisco, a series of fires broke out at apartment buildings and locally-owned businesses in the Mission District last summer, prompting residents to wonder if the city’s landlords were using arson to drive out low-income tenants from the predominantly Latino neighborhood, according to GQ magazine.
“...there is nothing I want more [than] to assure my constituents that arson is not a factor in these fires. Unfortunately, at this point, I cannot say this with certainty,” wrote David Campos of the San Francisco Board of Directors in an op-ed for the San Francisco Examiner.
According to Campos, the area saw six major fires within two years. In just 19 months, nearly 200 Mission District residents were displaced from their homes as a result of those fires, and three people, including a child, died.
“Reasonable people see that fires in low-income buildings almost always result in large profits for building owners and landlords and are disturbed and afraid the uptick in fires is more [than] just a coincidence,” Campos wrote.
While it may be obvious why setting fire to buildings would benefit landlords and owners, the same logic doesn’t quite explain the random East Bay fires that occurred in unoccupied, incomplete structures. However, gentrification may be a factor.
According to The Mercury News, arson was suspected in the two Emeryville fires. The second time around, a man was reportedly seen riding a bicycle onto the construction site just before dispatchers received the 911 call reporting the blaze.
Immediately after the ordeal, authorities were on the hunt for the man who was also seen on video footage in the area carrying a backpack. It’s unclear whether the same man is a suspect in connection with the first fire at the same location, but that one was also reportedly believed to be the work of an arsonist.
With this in mind, it’s not far-fetched to believe that the handful of other mysterious blazes could have been deliberately set in an effort to keep developers from further gentrifying traditionally urban East Bay neighborhoods.
The Bay Area housing crisis is still in full swing, and as the Silicon Valley tech boom continues to thrive, the cost of living throughout the entire region is steadily on the rise.
It is possible that locals are fighting fire with fire, so to speak. As landlords are suspected of using fires to drive tenants out, residents could also be using fires to run developers away.
If foul play is at the center of all these fires, it's an incredibly dangerous game for landlords and residents alike. Using arson as a form of protest or to intentionally displace families is beyond detestable. There is no justifiable reason to endanger the many innocent tenants' lives.