Jewish guard fears he was an arson victim

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Sacramento Fire Department investigators are following leads in a small fire that sparked outside the home of San Quentin prison guard Alan Ashenfarb last week.

Ashenfarb, 43, currently has charges of anti-Semitism pending against the state prison and the California Department of Corrections. He fears the fire at his Sacramento home was set in reaction to his case, which accuses named officers, sergeants and employees of fostering an anti-Semitic climate at work.

A Sept. 13 hearing has been scheduled in the Marin County Court in San Rafael.

Investigators have not yet determined a cause of the Aug. 15 fire, but despite Ashenfarb's concerns, they do not believe it was arson, according to the Sacramento Fire Department's public information officer, Captain Don Braziel.

"There's nothing suspicious that we're aware of," said Braziel, noting that a man shingling a nearby rooftop told investigators he did not see anyone come or go before the fire ignited around 9 a.m.

But Ashenfarb said that the fire had to be "caused by someone."

Braziel agreed. "It obviously didn't start on its own," he said. "We get plenty of grass fires in that area caused by kids who are playing with matches or machinery like lawnmowers, which set off a spark."

Braziel said that investigators will follow leads as they come in. This includes one from a neighbor who told Ashenfarb's wife that he saw two men standing near the fence before it became engulfed in flames.

The fire caused minimal damage to two 8-foot sections of fence on the property line between Ashenfarb's home and his neighbor's. The two neighbors later got together to fix the damage.

A 3-foot wooden gate leading to Ashenfarb's backyard was also partially damaged.

Both Ashenfarb and his wife, Sheila, were at work when the fire broke out, but their son was asleep inside the house.

If the fire was indeed arson, Ashenfarb said it would not be the first "scare tactic" employed since his case was filed on May 2. In June, he found a black swastika drawn on a piece of paper in his employee mailbox.

"I don't know if there's a correlation between this fire and the legal case," said Ashenfarb. "It just seems strange in light of the swastika incident at work. It all seems too coincidental."

Ashenfarb added that he does not "scare easily" and despite feeling "a little discouraged," he has no intention of dropping his suit.