Three Tuolumne County Sheriff's Office patrol vehicles were badly damaged this morning when they were deliberately set on fire, according to Sheriff Jim Mele.
The Sonora Police Department received emergency calls around 3 a.m. about a fire in the parking lot behind the Sheriff's Office administration building on Yaney Avenue.
Mele said a deputy who was in the office at the time went to check on some strange noises he heard and saw several vehicles “fully engulfed in flame.”
The Sonora Fire Department arrived on the scene shortly after and extinguished the blaze before any damage to the Sheriff's Office building or surrounding homes could occur, Mele said.
“We were very fortunate nobody was hurt and no residences or structures were lost,” he said.
Mele said Sheriff's Office investigators discovered once the fire was put out that a private car belonging to an unknown person was parked between two Sheriff's Office patrol cars.
Investigators found evidence that gasoline was poured on the private car and the three patrol cars, along with six others in the parking lot that weren't ignited, Mele said.
“This was a deliberate act,” said Mele.
The Sheriff's Office has put in calls to state and federal authorities to help with the investigation and determine whether this could be considered an act of terrorism against the department, according to Mele.
The Sheriff's Office currently has no leads on a suspect, but are scanning videos from surveillance cameras in the area, Mele said.
“Obviously this was someone who was very angry or upset at the Sheriff's Office,” Mele said.