UPDATE: The Houston Fire Department announced Saturday afternoon that Joshua A. Rauch, 28, has been arrested and charged with second-degree arson in connection with a series of recent fires in the Greater Heights.
Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena said Rauch is accused of setting at least seven fires across the city and could face additional or elevated charges. Pena said arson investigators are looking into other recent fires, but he did not say how many or specify when or where they occured.
According to a Monday news release from HFD, Rauch is suspected of being involved in Oct. 7 fires at the following addresses, most of which are in the Oak Forest and Acres Homes areas:
- 2012 W. 34th St.
- 3582 W. T.C. Jester Blvd.
- 5643 N. Shepherd Dr.
- 5355 Bolivia St.
- 2009 W. 34th St.
- 2114 Lou Ellen Ln.
- 6501 Bingle Rd.
Alison Stein, the chief arson investigator for HFD, said Rauch and his silver Ford Focus were identified through surveillance videos from fires at 2009 W. 34th St. and at the University of Houston-Downtown.
Rauch is accused of setting fires to vehicles, sheds and trash, according to Pena, who said no injuries have been caused by the fires.
HFD officials said a motive for the alleged crimes is unclear.
According to Harris County court documents, Rauch was charged with felony possession of methamphetamine in November 2019 and has a court hearing for that case scheduled for Dec. 16.
The year had been difficult enough for Brendan Posterick, who said he was laid off from his job as an event photographer because of the COVID-19 pandemic. His girlfriend also lost her car earlier this year, when the couple was in Dallas to celebrate her birthday and it got hit – and totaled – by a suspected drunk driver.
Then, at 3 a.m. Thursday, when Posterick was up late studying for the online college classes he’s taking, he heard the alarm on his own car blaring outside of his apartment near the intersection of West 18th Street and Harvard Street. When the 32-year-old Heights resident stepped outside to take a look, he saw his 2017 Toyota Rav4 engulfed in flames.
“It sucks because that car was the first car I bought with my own money,” Posterick said. “It was all from working at Smilebooth. It kind of represented all of my hard work, right there in those four wheels. To literally see all your hard work go up in flames, man, it sucks.
“The financial loss is one thing. That can be regained,” he added. “But what it represented, that meant a lot. And all you can do is watch it burn.”
Residents of the Greater Heights are seeing more fires than they would like these days. Community members have reported multiple apparent acts of arson during the last week in neighborhoods such as the Heights, Lazybrook and Oak Forest.
Posterick said he was told by the Houston Fire Department that there was another blaze on 18th Street around the same time his car caught fire. Regarding the loss of his vehicle, he said HFD personnel told him it was “definitely a case of arson.”
An employee at El Moreliano Meat Market, located at 2012 W. 34th St. in Oak Forest, said Friday that there was an overnight fire earlier this week in a shed on the back side of the property. A little bit to the north, in the 2100 block of Lou Ellen Lane, another commercial building was set fire, according to two nearby business owners.
At about 3 a.m. last Sunday, Oct. 4, Molotov cocktails were thrown into two residential properties on the same street in the Lazybrook neighborhood, according to the Houston Police Department. They caused minimal damage and no injuries.
“It’s very alarming,” said one of the impacted Lazybrook residents, who asked to remain anonymous.
After providing information about the incidents in Lazybrook, HPD’s public information office deferred subsequent questions about the fires to the arson division of the fire department.
The public information office for the fire department would not specify or confirm the locations, dates or times of any of the fires in the area. The fire department also did not answer several questions about the fires, such as what caused them, how much damage they caused, whether anyone was injured, whether anyone has been arrested or charged with a crime in connection to the incidents or whether there was a correlation between any of the fires.
Instead, HFD referred to a two-sentence news release it sent out at 3 p.m. Friday, asking the public for information.
“HFD is currently investigation a rash of fires in and around the Greater Heights area,” the news release said. “If you have any information, please contact Crime Stoppers of Houston at 713-222-TIPS.”
The office of Houston City Council member Abbie Kamin, who represents the Oak Forest and Heights areas as part of District C, did not respond to an email seeking information and comment about the fires.
Posterick said he considers the fire that destroyed his car – and burned part of a roadside tree and some bushes – to have been a random act. He said there were no stickers or signage on his car that affiliated him with any organization or cause, such as a political campaign sticker, and that he considers the individual or individuals responsible to be mentally or emotionally troubled and in need of help.
“I don’t feel that I was targeted,” he said. “I don’t feel it’s political in any way.”
Posterick, who has lived in the Heights for two years, said he also does not feel unsafe in the neighborhood even though his car burned up just a few yards from his apartment. Destiny Dietz, a nearby resident who was walking her dog Friday afternoon, also said she isn’t worried about the recent string of fires.
The incident has actually brought the block closer together, said Posterick, who was brought dinner by a neighbor on Thursday night.
“I wouldn’t suggest it, but getting your car set on fire is a great way to make friends,” he said. “Because I know everybody on the block now.”
Posterick still has to cope with no longer having a car, and he said he hopes his insurance will cover the cost of the loss.
Meanwhile, much of his neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods are on alert because at least one arsonist could be on the loose.
“We want to stress that citizens in the area take caution,” HFD spokesperson Martee Boose said.