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UCSB Housing Fire Being Investigated As Arson

Multiple law enforcement agencies are investigating the fire that broke out at a UC Santa Barbara housing construction site Friday.

The early morning Fourth of July blaze at the site of the Sierra Madre Apartments development is being looked at as arson.

“We woke up at 3 and we saw everything was in flames and it was really hot. We could feel the heat in our apartment,” said Avantike Sodhi, a UCSB student who lives across from the construction site.

The heat Sodhi felt melted portable bathrooms and the fence liner 200 feet away.

The Sierra Madre building is now a shell of what it was and three trailers were also destroyed.

“Everything is leaning towards that this is definitely arson but we’ll let the arson investigators make that final determination,” said Sgt. Rob Romero, of the University Police Department.

University police, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, CalFire, The District Attorney’s Arson Task Force and the Department of justice are joining forces trying to find out what started the blaze.

Investigators are going through burnt rubble looking for clues and combing through surveillance video from cameras set up on the property.

“We’re hoping we get something that’s going to help us,” said Romero.

The complex was set to have 115 apartments for students and 36 units for student, faculty and staff families. It was slated to be completed by fall 2015 but after the devastating fire, that time line is most likely going to be pushed back.

A few construction workers showed up to the site on Storke Road and Whitter Drive to see the damage. One worker who did not want to be identified said he started crying when he found out the building he had been working on for three months had gone up in flames.

It’s not just time lost, the damage is estimated at $10 million-$12 million, said Romero.

“(The suspect wasn’t) concerned about the people in the area because this could have easily caught the other structures that people are inhabiting and we could have had some serious loss of like and we’re lucky we didn’t,” said Romero.

Sodhi said the blackened site is sad to see, especially because some of her tuition help fund construction projects.

“I do feel connected because somewhere down the line, all these students who are paying their fees, their fees go into something like this, constructing facilities for students or for faculty and its basically looking at your fees go in flames, you know,” she said.

The University Police Department is offering a $10,000 reward for any information that leads to an arrest and conviction of a suspect or suspects if it is in fact arson.

Slideshow: UCSB Housing Fire Damages Estimated At $10 Million

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