La Presa Plaza on Grand Avenue in Spring Valley. Image via Google Maps

A transient with a history of starting fires on the streets of eastern San Diego County was behind bars Wednesday on suspicion of sparking a blaze that caused thousands of dollars worth of damage to a strip mall near Sweetwater Reservoir.

The non-injury fire at La Presa Plaza in the 500 block of Grand Avenue in Spring Valley erupted shortly before 8 p.m. Tuesday.

The flames spread to the roof of the multi-unit structure, which houses about a half-dozen businesses, before firefighters could extinguish the blaze, said sheriff’s Sgt. Kurt Cartie. A preliminary damage estimate set the monetary losses at about $10,000.

Investigators determined that a homeless woman in the area when the structure fire started, 76-year-old Leona Head, allegedly ignited it by setting an electrical box next to the building ablaze.

“She admitted to starting the fire by attempting to extinguish a lit cigar with a bottle of liquid from a bottle labeled `Clorox,”‘ Cartie alleged. “The liquid substance was unknown but appeared to be a flammable substance.”

Though Head’s description of the origin of the fire sounded like an unintentional act, the fact that she had started two previous fires ruled accidental led deputies to arrest her on suspicion of arson, the sergeant said.

Head was booked into Las Colinas women’s jail in Santee, where she was being held on $75,000 bail pending arraignment, tentatively scheduled for April 6.

— City News Service

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