Rise in suspicious fires has business owners on edge

This fire at the intersection of North Belardo Road and Merito Place on June 12 is one of multiple suspected of being intentionally set in recent weeks.

An alarming increase in fires suspected to be set intentionally in recent weeks has business owners in Palm Springs fearing the worst and authorities looking for help.

“It’s my store this time, but God forbid it’s somebody else’s store next time,” Hal Lewis told fellow business owners Tuesday morning during a Zoom meeting of the Main Street Palm Springs business association. “It’s scaring me. … This is happening again and again and again and again.”

What’s happening, according to police and fire officials who spoke during the meeting, is frightening not only for local business owners, but for them as well. A review of hundreds of pages of emergency call logs by The Post shows dozens of suspicious fires have been reported in the city during the past 30 days. Authorities suspect palm trees, garbage dumpsters, empty fields and even buildings are being intentionally lit on fire downtown.

“I’ve had to call dispatch three different times for my business,” Lewis said. “… We put cameras up and they are taken down by people. I feel like my hands are tied and I’m grateful no buildings have been burned down.”

Though many in the community suspect members of the city’s homeless population are to blame, Palm Springs Fire Department Capt. Nathan Gunkel said that without evidence authorities are unable to confirm the suspicions.

“A lot of this is in areas without cameras,” Gunkel said. “By the time we get there — clearly this is something man caused — but people don’t want to get involved.”

Gunkel emphasized that simply reporting a fire will not be enough to bring an end to the spree.

“Any time there’s a fire the fire department should be called,” Gunkel said. “The biggest problem is that people are calling 911 to report a fire started. They may see something, but they don’t stick around.

“We need a witness,” he added. “The best thing you can do is be a good witness. … We are a community and we’ve always worked together very well. That’s what we need to continue to keep doing.”

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BRIEFLY

COOLING CENTER OPENS: Martha’s Village and Kitchen opened the doors on a new, 24-hour cooling center in Palm Springs Tuesday. The facility, located at the United Methodist Church, 1555 E. Alejo Rd., provides not only an opportunity to cool off, but also meals and a place to sleep for those experiencing homelessness. The church facility is one of two cooling centers now available in the city. The other, Well in the Desert, at 441 S. Calle Encilia, is open from 7:30 AM until 3 PM seven days a week and also provides meals. It is slated to close by the end of the month as the city works to shift services it offers to the site of the former Boxing Club, 225 S. El Cielo Road. While reservations are not required at The Well, they are required at the church facility, and can be made by emailing [email protected]. Martha’s currently plans to keep the facility open through Sept. 30.

VICTIM IDENTIFIED: Police have identified the victim of a shooting in Palm Springs last month. According to published reports, the man found dead following a reported shooting on June 22 in the 700 block of West Racquet Club Drive is Jose Sosa, 44, who was a resident of Coachella. A suspect in the shooting, 42-year-old Jeffrey Burgess of Sky Valley, had called police to report the incident. Burgess remains in jail facing charges of murder. He earlier pleaded not guilty and was ordered held on $1 million bail. Police have not reported a motive for the shooting.


LIPSTICK SHOW IS BACK: Bella da Ball is bringing her Lipstick Drag and Cabaret Show back to the Copa Nightclub, 244 East Amado Road, after a 16-month hiatus due to COVID-19. The weekly 8 PM shows, starting July 15, will once again feature drag personalities, vocalists, and the popular “hostess with the mostess.” There is no cover charge for the Thursday events, but reservations are required. Those can be made by emailing Bella at [email protected]. On Friday evenings, Marina Mac hosts her drag show at Copa.


TODAY’S EVENTS

LIBRARY BOARD: The city’s Library Board of Trustees meeting, scheduled for today, will not take place. The next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 1 at 5:30 PM, either virtually or at Palm Springs City Hall.

BOOK CLUB: The OutBook Book Club meets today via Zoom, starting at 7 PM. This month the club is discussing The Hours by Michael Cunningham, and Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. To receive meeting information for the OutBook Book Club, please email book club coordinator Hubertus Zegers in advance of the meeting at [email protected]

POWER BASEBALL: The Palm Springs Power plays this evening at Palm Springs Stadium, 1901 E. Baristo Rd. First pitch is at 7:05 PM. A complete schedule is available here.


COMMUNITY CONNECTION

Want to know what’s happening in your city and at agencies that make decisions affecting your neighborhood? The following links should help:

City of Palm Springs calendar of events

Palm Springs Library calendar of events

Palm Springs Unified School District calendar

Mizell Center calendar of events

Desert Water Agency calendar

ONE-PS calendar of events

Police reports | Submit a police report

Code compliance reports | Report a code violation

Current road projects and closures

Currently active development projects

FIND Food Bank mobile market schedule

Palm Springs Disposal pickup schedule

Palm Springs Power baseball team schedule

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