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Series of fires in Bakersfield's Westchester neighborhood has residents on edge

It was about 1:30 a.m. Sunday when someone banged on Chris Lowe’s front door to alert him that something behind his Westchester home was on fire.

When he got outside he could see the wood fence and the redwood trees in his neighbor's backyard across the alley were in flames.

"The trees next to the fence were just ablaze," Lowe said. "The neighbor there is brand new. He's just moving in."

As it turned out, it wouldn’t be the only fire in the neighborhood that morning. Not even close.

Bakersfield Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike Walkley, the department's public information officer, said the string of calls began at 1:11 a.m. — and again a minute later for a fire at Aspen and Bay streets that affected two adjacent homes.

Four tall, slender Italian cypress trees that bordered the two properties appeared to have been completely destroyed. The fire also damaged the roof of a carport and the fence of the adjoining home.

A neighbor who asked that his name not be used, said he spoke with a fire investigator who was asking for security video from residents at the location.

"We're all concerned about all the fires going on," the man said.

He counted 12 fire vehicles at the scene, but some would soon leave for other fire calls, he said.

Indeed, more fires would be reported over the coming 90 minutes.

The next came at 1:27 a.m., Walkley said, for the house in the 2800 block of Spruce Street, across the alley from Lowe.

On Monday morning, new homeowner Benjamin Altovilla stood where his fence line had once stood. Fire had destroyed the backyard fence and damaged two of three redwood trees.

"I closed escrow on the 20th (of April), and took possession on the 24th," he said. This is my first home purchase.

"Welcome to home ownership."

A Bakersfield Fire Department spokesman declined to say whether the string of fires, all set within a short time span in easy walking distance from one another, were likely set by a single individual or group.

After receiving a report of "drift smoke" at 1:32 a.m., dispatch received another fire call on Olive Street, just north of 24th Street. There, a tree in front of the Riviera Westchester Apartments was severely damaged.

Other reports also came in, including two in the downtown neighborhood, but no fire was found at one location and another report was not yet complete Monday afternoon, Walkley said.

One thing was certain. Area residents were on edge, hoping that anyone responsible will be arrested.

"A lot of us are somewhat scared," Lowe said, "of what the arsonist could do next."

Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.