A three-alarm blaze destroyed thousands of criminal files early Wednesday morning after someone threw a fiery object through a records room window at the Solano County Courthouse in Vallejo.
The fire forced the courthouse to close for at least a day.
The blaze began in the same area that friends of a drug crime suspect bombed in 1997 to thwart his prosecution, said Vallejo fire Chief Doug Robertson.
A smoke detector signaled the fire department at 4:04 a.m. and the first units arrived four minutes later, Robertson said. A patrolling police officer also reported the fire, officials said. The blaze was contained in 45 minutes and extinguished 45 minutes after that, he said.
Damaged or destroyed were the office of criminal investigation and incoming criminal files, said Solano County sheriff's spokesman Gary Faulkner. It was not immediately known if copies of destroyed documents existed.
Fire investigator Bill Tweedy told reporters during a midmorning news conference, "The building was locked, the fire was started from the outside" when an object was thrown through the window.
"After another four or five minutes, at the rate it was burning, it could have been a devastating fire for the county," Tweedy said.
No one was injured.
Robertson said fire and water damage was confined mostly to a small portion of the 5,000-square-foot records room that lacked a sprinkler system. He said other parts of the building hadsprinklers, but not the records room because it was not required at the time it was built.
Faulkner said about 60 full-time employees including judges work in the building and about 140 prospective jurors had been expected to report for duty.
Those with business at the courthouse were asked to call 707-207-7475 for instructions.
Vallejo attorney Parker Taft, showed up and was told on the courthouse steps that closing arguments in a civil trial in which he was involved would be delayed.
The fire began in the same area where friends of Kevin Lee Robinson, 30, set off a bomb in January 1997, presumably to destroy evidence against him. He was convicted, however, and in February 1998 he received a 110-year prison term.
That courthouse explosion blew out nearly two dozen windows, destroyed part of a wall and damaged several businesses.