A homeless San Jose man has been charged with arson and first degree burglary for allegedly starting the fire that destroyed the former home of San Francisco Bay Area station KNTV.
Stillman Pfeffer has been charged with using a liquid accelerant to start the fire.
The abandoned building has recently been used as an encampment by the city’s homeless. The San Jose Mercury News also reports possible human remains have been detected in the rubble.
Pfeffer was arraigned Wednesday and did not enter a plea. He is being held without bail while dogs trained to detect human remains are deployed by the San Jose Fire Department to examine the charred structure.
About 1:30 Wednesday, one of the dogs alerted handlers of a possible hit in the rubble. A short time later a second dog had a hit in the same location. The pile of debris was then partially excavated and the dogs were brought back again in the early evening. Again, they detected something, but officials said they would have to do a deeper excavation Thursday morning.
San Jose Fire Capt. Cleo Doss said that while they couldn’t confirm remains were under the debris, the dogs used are generally quite reliable.
“These dogs are very experienced,” he said. “One just came back from the state of Washington where it was assisting in the mudslides. They’ve done a lot of work and been very reliable. The handlers are very professional. But we still have to confirm what they say we have.”
He said if remains are found, police will take over the crime scene.
“If there’s something there, we will find it,” Doss said.
Members of the San Jose Fire Department monitor the remains of a five-alarm fire at Park Ave. and Montgomery St. in San Jose, Calif. on Monday, April 14, 2014. The roof and walls of the former KNTV-11 building collapsed during the fire. As many as 30 homeless people were known to stay in the vacant building prompting authorities to search the building for any victims once it is safe to enter.
If remains are found, Pfeffer would face more serious charges. If they aren’t, his bail will be reassessed, Deputy District Attorney David Boyd said. A witness to the fire told investigators she saw a man “squirt a liquid onto a mattress” seconds before the fire broke out, according to an SJFD arson report. A dog specially trained in detecting fire accelerants helped corroborate the claim.
KNTV used the building, built in 1955, when it was an ABC affiliate.