Police arrest suspect for arson in Morgan Hill fire

Power lines were reportedly down due to the blaze. Credit:

Police arrested a suspect they think caused the morning fire
that burned part of a PG
&
amp;E substation yard and threatened a nearby convalescent home
and church in Morgan Hill.
Police arrested a suspect they think caused the morning fire that burned part of a PG&E substation yard and threatened a nearby convalescent home and church in Morgan Hill.

Clouds of smoke puffed into the sky over downtown Morgan Hill as the fire consumed a pile of unused utility poles as firefighters arrived at the scene Friday morning.

The fire was reported about 11:10 a.m., starting in a grassy area near the intersection of Noble Court and Peak Avenue, according to Santa Clara County fire department staff.

Police arrested Israel Hernandez, 27 of Morgan Hill, who was seen near the fire when it started and identified by witnesses, Morgan Hill Police Capt. Jerry Neumayer said.

Hernandez was booked into Santa Clara County Jail on suspicion of misdemeanor arson, Neumayer said. The incident is still under investigation, and police do not know if he started the fire intentionally or accidentally. He might have started the fire with a burning cigarette, police said.

Nearby structures occupied by hundreds of children and adults watched the flames closely, but were spared from damage and injuries. Firefighters from the county, South County and CalFire extinguished the fire by about 12:45 p.m.

The only damage reported was the burned utility poles, laying in a pile on the edge of the grassy area encircled by Pacific Hills Manor on Noble Court, St. Catherine Parish on Peak Avenue, the PG&E substation on Main Avenue and several homes.

The poles belonged to PG&E, according to Tell. No live electrical power lines or electrical equipment was burned and no power outages occurred as a result of the fire, Tell added.

Staff of St. Catherine of Alexandria Catholic School called the fire department as soon as they saw the smoke and flames, according to principal Fabienne Esparza. Staff members also watered down the property lines on the eastern side of the property, which was closest to the fire, as a precaution.

Although the incident ended safely for the school, Esparza decided to send all the students home “on a rainy day schedule.” The principal will write a letter to parents to let them know what happened.

“We don’t want the students out there in the smoke because the power lines are (threatened),” Esparza said while the fire was still burning about 11:45 a.m.

At Pacific Hills Manor, a convalescent home, residents and staff watched as the wind blew the smoke and flames away from the building, executive director Valerie Alves said. The 98 residents were not evacuated from the facility.

“It would be an evacuation only if the facility would be threatened by the flames, or smoke would put residents at risk,” Alves said. “Everything was blowing in the other direction, thank goodness.”

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