Woman arrested in Berkeley grass fire arson case at Aquatic Park

Aquatic Park (file photo). Photo: Dave Nold

A grass fire at Aquatic Park on Tuesday led to the arrest of a homeless woman in the area on suspicion of felony arson, police report.

The fire, at about 6:40 p.m. in the southern part of Aquatic Park, grew to approximately 25 feet by 25 feet, said Officer Byron White, Berkeley police spokesman.

White said officers interviewed witnesses to get a description of the person who started the fire as firefighters worked to put out the blaze.

About an hour later, White said, firefighters “spotted the suspect near a homeless encampment that was just south of Aquatic Park.”


Police responded and arrested Tara Sue Chaser, 33, on suspicion of felony arson and an active arrest warrant from Sacramento County, White said. He said Chaser’s photograph could not be released.

According to court papers, Chaser was charged Thursday with recklessly setting fire to a structure, forest land or other property. It is a misdemeanor charge.

Chaser remains in custody, according to online jail records, but her next court appearance was not listed.

White said the department has tallied 19 arson incidents in 2018, including the one this week at Aquatic Park.

In March, BPD reported that arson reports had jumped from 20 in 2016 to 33 in 2017, a 65% increase, although none were “major incidents,” BPD said: “There have been three recent arrests of arson suspects, one of whom is a serial arsonist with a history of drug use and mental health issues.”

The March report referenced “three recent arrests” but, coincidentally, BPD has also made three arrests on suspicion of arson in recent weeks, since June 29. In addition to Chaser, BPD arrested Tarkneeka Bivens, 29, on June 29 in connection with a 7 a.m. arson report at Allston Way and Oxford Street; and 51-year-old Charles James on July 3.

BPD said previously, in relation to the James case, that officers were called to McDonald’s at 1198 San Pablo Ave. at 10:10 p.m. for a report from staff “that a man was setting trash cans on fire.” BFD responded and put out the fire, and officers found James nearby in Albany and arrested him.