24-year-old Alfredo Bautista allegedly admitted to setting eight small fires that blazed through the Berkeley Hills for several days last week.
According to KPIX 5, Bautista was involved in a violent road rage incident stemming from a car accident near Grizzly Peak Boulevard and Fish Ranch Road at around 8 a.m. last Wednesday morning. He allegedly approached the people in the other car involved in the accident brandishing a rifle. When the victims tried to flee, Bautista hopped in his car, following and ramming the victims' car until they crashed into another parked vehicle. Bautista waved his rifle again, then fled on foot.
He was later apprehended (shirtless) when UC Berkeley police officer Ryan Minamoto responded to the report of a stolen vehicle at Berkeley Lab. Minamoto found Bautista standing next to the stolen vehicle (which seems to have nothing to do with the vehicles involved in the earlier collision, but it's not really clear), with a cigarette lighter in his pocket. Bautista later admitted that in between the collision and his arrest, he returned to the scene of the accident and started eight small fires with his lighter.
The fire, which began on Wednesday afternoon, wasn't completely extinguished until Monday morning. It destroyed 20 acres of the Berkeley hillside and one firefighter was injured in a fall while fighting the blaze. The fire also sparked major fear in the Oakland/Berkeley hills because of how fire-prone and densely populated the area is, and given the proximity to the nexus of the 1991 Oakland Hills firestorm that destroyed thousands of homes.
Yesterday, Bautista pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of arson causing great bodily injury, attempted second-degree robbery, assault with force like to produce great bodily injury and unlawfully driving or taking a vehicle. He refused to waive his right to a speedy preliminary hearing, so he'll be back in court on August 21. Six members of Bautista's family showed up in support yesterday and were spotted huddled with the Concord resident's public defender.
According to the Daily Californian, Bautista is being held on $335,000 bail at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.