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Suspicious fires strike Home Depot
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Police believe that a store employee may have started two fires a day apart at the Ceres Home Depot store, causing over $100,000 in damages.

The first fire broke out at 9:54 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 9 in the pool chemical area of the outdoor garden section at the west end of the store. Firefighters spent about 16 minutes putting water on the fire, said Fire Chief Brian Hunt.

"Flames melted the plastic containers that the chlorine tablets were in and melted pool hose," said Hunt.

The store was closed for approximately four hours while environmental and hazardous materials teams checked to determine if entry for workers and the public was safe. Firefighters left the store at 2 p.m.

The second fire broke out at 4:40 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 11, this time in the back of the store where appliances and cabinetry are stored. Overhead sprinklers were triggered to help douse the flames but damaged both products and product packaging.

"We have reason to believe this is more than an accidental fire," said Hunt. "It is under investigation by the police department."

"There was significant loss of product," said Hunt. He estimated that Sunday's loss was over $100,000 but said it may have been too low. He factored in costs of damaged cabinets and electrical appliances, the loss of business and the cost of manpower to extract estimated 2,000 gallons of water fell onto the floor from sprinklers. Firefighters helped squeegee water out of the store.

In Sunday's fire, fire crews stayed on scene until 8:20 p.m.

Investigators have clues - including fingerprints - that may lead to an arrest. According to detective Sgt. James Robbins, officers seized a home computer belonging to the chief suspect. The computer was seized because police saw that someone posted an ad on the "Rants & Raves" section of the Modesto Craigs List website making reference to the fire. When another person posted a response to the ad suggesting that the person could be traced through his internet IP number, the ad was taken down, said Robbins.

Both fires occurred in surveillance camera dead spots, giving police an idea that the fires were done by an insider.

"Whoever set the fires I don't think they meant to burn the place down," said Robbins. "The fires were set in little containers and were small smoldering fires, sort of like attention getter fires."