Coalinga police use surveillance video to catch serial arson suspect

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A man who Coalinga police say is a serial arsonist is in jail. Investigators believe he's responsible for thousands of dollars in damage. (KFSN)

A man who Coalinga police say is a serial arsonist is in jail. Investigators believe he's responsible for thousands of dollars in damage.

Michael Stewart, 27, of Coalinga was arrested after being accused of lighting at least six dumpsters on fire. Now, police are investigating him for at least a dozen other arsons around the city.

It's the middle of the night in Coalinga and a figure emerges on surveillance video taken from the side of a business office. This is one of two separate videos where police say Stewart lights a dumpster on fire then runs away.

"We've had about 18 different arsons since the middle of January. We were finally lucky and got some surveillance video that led to the arrest that was made," said Sgt. Manny Boulos of the Coalinga Police Department.

From palm trees to cars to dumpsters, investigators say Stewart chose random spots around the city to vandalize by lighting them on fire. If you look at the video again, you can see the fire lighting up the corner of the screen. Police said Stewart saunters back to check it out before fleeing the scene.

"Probably saved some lives. At a certain point, he would have escalated from garbage cans to structures," said Boulos.

Police believe the suspect, who is a transient, damaged thousands of dollars in private property. And at this point, it's unclear if he'll be responsible to pay for any of it.

"He's wasting resources that the state doesn't have, in addition to the amount of damage that's being done, the amount of water that's being wasted to fight these things," said Boulos.

Stewart has been booked on eight counts of felony arson, and the Fresno County district attorney is expected to review the case on Monday.

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crimetrackerarsonarson investigationfirearrestfresno countyCoalinga
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