Arson Cases Across San Diego Skyrocket During Pandemic

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As police chase down a serial arsonist in Mira Mesa, NBC 7 Investigates wanted to know how many arson attacks occur across all of San Diego each year.

The answer to that question changed drastically in 2020 and 2021 – and not for the better.

NBC 7 Investigates analyzed San Diego Police 911 callouts for arson investigators and found they doubled from 2019 to 2020 and kept climbing in 2021.

Records from the San Diego County District Attorney's Office tell a similar story. Arson cases issued by the DA jumped 67% from 2019 to 2020, and they stayed high in 2021.

The downtown San Diego's East Village neighborhood claimed the lion’s share of last year’s 911 fire calls, followed by the nearby Core-Columbia area, North Park, Pacific Beach and Midway.

“I just know I heard a big boom and looked out the window and my truck was on fire,” says Jeremy Kimball, one of 33 victims of car fires police believe were set by a serial arsonist in Mira Mesa over a two-week period.

Kimball lost a lot more than just a truck.

“Gosh, I have no way of making money anymore," exclaimed Kimball. I don’t have any tools. All my tools were in that truck.”

As a plumber/HVAC/electric worker, Kimball had $4,000 to $5,000-worth of tools in that truck, which truck wasn’t even his. The truck was a rental because his personal one was involved in a wreck.

And, no, he didn’t pay the extra insurance on the rental.

“That’s my whole life,” says Kimball. “My whole life, my living, money-making system, was in that vehicle. And now, what am I going to do?”

Kimball hopes this serves as a wake-up call to beef up security.

“Why do we not have freaking cameras?” asks Kimball. “That’s so ridiculous. I don’t understand it.”

He hopes complexes everywhere in San Diego start adding them now, so more people don’t have to suffer like this.

“I’m kinda done at this point,” says Kimball. “I’m kinda stuck, and hurt, and confused.”

Kimball says he doesn’t know how he’s going to make money or where he’s going to live, but knows he needs to figure something out soon -- really soon -- because his son’s birthday is in two days and he’s afraid this year dad won’t be able to give him a gift.

Misdemeanor arson carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail. If you’re convicted of felony arson, you could spend a maximum of four years in prison. 

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