Fresno arson hero turned suspect

FRESNO, Calif.

Action News interviewed Alex Alvarado about saving a disabled friend from the fire that destroyed two apartments and put a beauty salon out of business.

No one's disputing that Alvarado rescued a disabled woman from the burning building. What they are saying, though, is that she wouldn't have needed saving if he hadn't committed a crime first.

Broken water pipes leak into the still-flooded basement of the Central Fresno apartments destroyed by fire last month.

Upstairs, a charred can of Sterno chafing fuel sits among the embers. Fire investigators found several similar cans after controlling the flames.

Days later, they say Alvarado -- one of the displaced residents -- admitted he used Sterno to start the fire after an argument with his downstairs neighbors.

"He was very upset and frustrated with them," said Fresno fire investigator Floyd Wilding. "When he returned home from his walk, he ignited the Sterno cans on fire, and he took a Coleman gas can and doused the wall with fuel."

That's not quite the story Alvarado told Action News on the day of the fire. He told us the fire came out of nowhere as he returned from his walk.

"I had to go to the restroom so I went to the restroom," he told us on Feb. 10. "When I opened the door the restroom, the window was open. I just looked back to the closet and everything just caught fire real fast. I can't tell you what it was. I don't know what it was."

Alvarado also touted himself as a hero for pulling his disabled friend Lisa out of the burning apartment. Investigators say that may be true, but while he was saving her, he was putting his downstairs neighbors in danger. One of them told investigators -- after fighting with Alvarado -- it only took a little while to know something was wrong.

"He was down in the basement approximately 10-15 minutes and the power went off and he started to smell smoke," said Fresno fire investigator Rich Willard.

If he's found guilty of setting the fire, Alvarado could lose several years of his life. Between the fire and the flood, his neighbors have already lost everything.

A judge decided Friday there's enough evidence for Alvarado to stand trial on arson charges. He'll be back in court later this month.

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