Man guilty of 31 counts

MARTINEZ — A jury convicted a Pittsburg man of 31 counts related to car fires all around Contra Costa County Tuesday, in what authorities call the biggest serial arson case in the county’s history.

James Bishop III, 38, now faces 20 years in prison after being convicted of multiple counts of arson and possession of flammable material, as well as a single count of possessing ammunition. He was convicted of starting fires in Antioch, Pittsburg, Concord, Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Brentwood, Martinez, Pleasant Hill, and Benicia.

Deputy District Attorney Andrea Tavenier said it was “a miracle” no one was hurt or killed during the arson spree.

James Bishop III, 36, of Pittsburg, was charged with multiple counts of<br />arson to an inhabited structure as well as possession of flammable<br />materials on Wednesday in connection with a string of vehicle fires around<br />Contra Costa County. (Photo provided by Contra Costa Fire Protection<br />District.) 

“James Bishop terrorized his community and posed a significant and substantial danger to his victims and the citizens of this county. He chose to ignite vehicles in the dead of night, most of which were parked in areas where the fire was likely to spread,” Tavenier said in a written statement.

The charges stem from a series of car fires around the area, which perplexed investigators until they started noticing patterns in the way the fires were starting. On four occasions, the fires spread to adjacent homes, putting unsuspecting residents — and in one case a room full of sleeping children — at risk, authorities said.

“It’s clear that we dodged a number of bullets,” Contra Costa Fire Protection District spokesman Steve hill said. “Through combination of hard work and being on scene quickly and probably some luck, we didn’t end up w any injuries or casualties. It could’ve easily gone in a different direction.”

Bishop was charged with starting 14 fires, but Hill said the spree included around 40 arsons in total. The jury acquitted Bishop of two counts, while convicting him of the other 31.

Hill said the county investigates “nearly every fire” and has a policy to bring at least five engines to every house fire. He credited the police departments in all the affected cities, as well as the California Highway Patrol and the Contra Costa Sheriff’s office, for helping with the investigation.

Bishop has prior convictions in Los Angeles County for statutory rape in 1999 and receiving stolen property in 2010. Hill said a motive was never determined.

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