Police: East Palo Alto woman arrested for setting fire to RV

Detectives investigating possible connection to vehicle fire that occurred in same area

A 31-year-old East Palo Alto woman was arrested on suspicion of arson following a fire on Sunday, May 1, that caused minor damage to an unoccupied recreational vehicle, according to a press release from the Palo Alto Police Department.

At about 12:07 p.m., a witness called police after seeing a woman, later identified as Ursula Anne Zavala, allegedly lighting a piece of paper on fire and placing the burning paper in the wheel well of an unoccupied 1985 Toyota motor home parked on the 700 block of El Camino Real, police said. When Zavala left, the witness went over to the RV and extinguished the fire, police said. The witness then followed Zavala from a distance while on the phone with police. Zavala was arrested without incident at 95 University Ave. a short time later, police said.

There was minor fire damage on the RV's wheel well, said police, adding that they are not aware of any connection between Zavala and the owner of the RV.

Zavala was booked into the Santa Clara County Main Jail for one count of felony arson. She was also booked for two outstanding misdemeanor warrants (one for vandalism out of San Jose and another for a municipal code violation out of Santa Clara), according to police. Officers also booked Zavala for a misdemeanor probation violation, stemming from convictions for violating a protective order and for falsely reporting a crime, police said.

Detectives are investigating any possible connection between Zavala and other vehicle fires that have occurred in Palo Alto and surrounding communities, including a vehicle fire that took place earlier Sunday morning in the parking lot of Palo Alto High School at 50 Embarcadero Road.

In that incident, an unoccupied 1991 Honda Accord caught fire at about 10:34 a.m., causing damage to the hood and front windshield area, police said. Arson investigators from the Palo Alto Fire Department are investigating the cause of the fire.

Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call the police department's 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413. Anonymous tips can be emailed to or sent via text message or voice mail to 650-383-8984.


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28 people like this
Posted by I can see why
a resident of Barron Park
on May 5, 2016 at 11:32 am

She might have been frustrated by the constant parking of all those RVs around Palo Alto and vicinity. The sight does get old ...

6 people like this
Posted by Quizas, Quizas
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2016 at 12:03 pm

[Post removed.]

3 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 5, 2016 at 1:44 pm

I see RV's on El Camino, and sometimes along Alma. It seems to me to be a good place to park RVs where they do not bother anyone. No one can bother them, and they don't bother anyone else. They are not in front of anyone's house or business. Even if you think having to look at something is bothersome, it doesn't give you the right to burn them down.

Is this woman a Palo Alto resident, a homeowner ... what was her motive? It sounds like she has a bit of a pyromaniac tendency since she burned something before?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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