12-year-old girl arrested after 4 suspected arson fires in Berkeley Hills

The girl, who was visiting family in Berkeley, was taken to the Alameda County Juvenile Hall in San Leandro.

a man standing in a home and a view of the fire in the neighorhood beneath
Berkeley Hills resident Zoe Beach captured a photo of her husband, Ben Seibel, calling 911 as they witnessed the blaze in the neighborhood below them on Friday evening. Credit: Zoe Beach

Police arrested a 12-year-old girl on Friday night in connection with four suspected arson fires in a Berkeley Hills neighborhood that took place throughout the day.

The first was a small grass fire just after 10:20 a.m. in the 1600 block of La Vereda Road (near Cedar Street) that neighbors extinguished, followed by two fires at about 2 p.m. — in a grassy area on Cedar Path between La Loma and La Vereda, and in dried leaves in the 1600 block of La Vereda — and a fire just before 7:30 p.m. at a home in the 2700 block of Cedar Street.

Click the rectangle in the upper left corner of the map to see a list of incidents

Officer Byron White, BPD spokesperson, said the girl who was arrested was visiting family in Berkeley. Police located the girl in the neighborhood, White said.

Typically, he said, children are released to their parents after an arrest, but that was not the case here.


“We prefer not to arrest a 12-year-old, but we had reason to believe that (the fires) would continue,” White said, explaining that the high fire risk in the Berkeley Hills, coupled with the multiple fires throughout the day, prompted the decision. “It was too dangerous not to take her into custody.”

The girl was arrested without incident and taken to the Alameda County Juvenile Hall in San Leandro.

White said the girl could still be released to a guardian but, in light of the fire conditions in the Berkeley Hills, “quite frankly, the community can’t take that chance without some government intervention.”

smoke showing in the sky in the Berkeley Hills above homes
Several residents witnessed a large emergency response and smoke showing in the Berkeley Hills after the suspected arson fires broke out Friday evening. Credit: BlackberryHikes

White said the damage from the fires was significant. Berkeley residents described a large emergency response in the hills and plumes of smoke emerging from the neighborhood Friday night.

The Berkeley Hills have been under high fire alert with the return of hot, dry weather in Berkeley, and received its first red flag warning of the season in early May. The East Bay is also in an official drought, with a severe fire season expected this year.

The Berkeley Fire Department was unavailable for comment Saturday.

Supriya Yelimeli is Berkeleyside's homelessness and housing reporter. Email: supriya@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: SupriyaYelimeli. Phone: 510-585-8315.