Fire Blight

The abandoned military housing of Marina's Cypress Knolls has long been stripped of valuable metals. Only empty stucco duplexes - coated with lead paint and filled with asbestos - remain.

Between August 2008 and April 2014, two fires ignited in Marina’s Cypress Knolls, a 188-acre abandoned military housing area in the former Fort Ord. Since May of this year, there have been five.

The last fire occurred Sept. 3, just blocks away from a similar structure fire on June 11. Both started in the dark and burned about 50 percent of a duplex.

“I’m leaning now to these being intentionally set,” says Marina Fire Chief Harald Kelley. “Maybe it’s a transient. Maybe it’s kids.”

Marina Police Cmdr. Bob Nolan is more sure.

“They don’t start on their own; we’re convinced of that,” he says. “But there are no witnesses, no neighbors, no people out there.”

Long uninhabited, Cypress Knolls no longer has running water. Some of the fires have been fought with tenders from neighboring fire departments – Marina FD doesn’t have one. Fortunately, the blazes don’t get too big because the structures are empty. Still, fighting the fires has cost the city between $10,000-$15,000.

There is also no electricity, which is one reason officials suspect arson.

“There’s no ignition source unless somebody does something,” Kelley says. “Can we say without a doubt that it’s arson? No. But let’s explore.”

Kelley has asked police and city officials to reach out to youth and transient communities for possible leads.

“It doesn’t look like it was a campfire to stay warm. It was somebody that likes to play with fire,” Nolan says of the most recent blaze. “One of the signs with arson is, people get excited to watch the firemen come put it out. They feel emboldened by it.”

For years, Cypress Knolls was slated to become a senior housing development. Instead, it remains a collection of blighted buildings coated with lead paint and filled with asbestos, making them expensive to remove but pointless to save.

“Whenever there is a fire there, it poses a challenge,” Kelley says. “It’d be nice to let whole thing burn.”

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