“It’s important to know the origin and cause to prevent any future fires if it’s incendiary in nature,” De Cossio said.
In an email earlier this week, the department spokeswoman, Lt. Mindy Talmadge, took issue with the use of the word "backlog" -- which appears on a department document listing the open cases -- and said investigations have been proceeding on most of the cases.
"The terminology 'backlog' is a bit inflammatory, suggesting that investigations are not being done," Talmadge said. "This is inaccurate and an obvious assumption by virtue of the word."
In a second email, Talmadge said the department's own accounting of fire investigations shows that most are what she termed "complete" -- meaning "that the Fire Department investigative process is complete in as much as we can do. We may be waiting for lab or test results from another agency to add to the report."
She said the department's own accounting of 305 open cases, a document KQED News obtained in a public records request, backs up her contention.
That report (embedded below) shows that as of the end of May:
- In 30 cases, for fires that occurred between early March and early May 2015, investigations had not begun.
- 146 cases, including fires between January 2012 and late April 2015, were listed as "In Progress." That means investigations are ongoing or that fire investigators have completed their work but have not yet drafted a report.
- 11 cases were listed as completed, with first draft reports awaiting departmental peer review.
- 101 cases were listed as completed, with peer-reviewed reports awaiting review by the arson task force captain.
- 17 cases had gone through the complete review process but were awaiting corrections or changes ordered by the captain.