Vandals are striking Lodi in two ways, according to the Lodi Fire Department.
One is by lighting fires in park trashcans, which has caused significant damage to nearby structures. The other consists of stacking combustible materials against the side of buildings, then setting them alight, possibly for warmth.
The Lodi Fire Department says these are trends that have developed within the previous two years and have garnered the city’s attention.
Trashcan fires in American Legion Park, in the 800 block of South Hutchins Street, have been the most predominant and recent examples of vandalism.
Thirteen reported fires have been set inside trashcans since October 2011, and they usually occur in the early morning hours, well before park patrol arrives.
“The nights have not been that cold during these instances, so I don’t believe it’s transients trying to stay warm,” said Lodi Fire Department Capt. Brian Jungeblut. “I believe they’re fires intentionally set for whatever reason. I don’t know the specific motives. If it was transients, I think we’d see more (fires) in other parks. Right now, they’re just targeting Legion Park.”
Jungeblut added that trashcan fires have occasionally sprouted in other parks.
A bathroom at Katzakian Park suffered $10,000 in damage after a trashcan torched the structure in August 2012. The fire, which happened two months after another city park suffered $8,000 in fire damage, burned the stucco and damaged the roof.
As a result of these fires, park patrollers have taken measures to prevent damage to buildings, said Jeff Hood, director of park, recreation and cultural services.
“It’s hard to stop people from doing this,” he said. “You just have to take measures to minimize the damage.”
Jungeblut said the police are also providing extra patrol around the park.
Fires started against the walls of vacant buildings have caused even greater damage in recent years.
From 2011 to 2012, four fires were set against two separate buildings — two fires outside each building — on Lodi’s Eastside.
“The fires have been started by stacking combustible materials up against the side of buildings,” said Jungeblut, adding that these could be warming fires for transients. “We haven’t seen one on the Eastside of town in quite a while. Transients move around a lot, so it’s hard to say weather it’s resolved itself or they’re just laying low.”
Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.