Pair Charged in Connection with Fire That Destroyed City Building

City News Service Pristine Villarreal

RIVERSIDE (CNS) – A transient accused of igniting a blaze that destroyed a building in downtown Riverside was charged Friday with arson, while his alleged cohort was charged with being an accessory after the fact.

Isaac Gutierrez Avila, 41, and Pasha Sadavandi, 40, were arrested Thursday following a two-week-long investigation by the Riverside Police and Fire departments.

Along with arson, Avila is charged with using an incendiary device to intentionally start a fire resulting in property damage. Sadavandi is facing only the accessory count.

According to Riverside police Officer Ryan Railsback, the fire erupted shortly before 5 a.m. on May 16 at 3460 Orange St., directly across from the Riverside Convention Center.

The single-story building was city-owned and had been used as an office complex but was vacant at the time of the blaze.

Railsback said five engine crews and a truck company, numbering more than two dozen personnel, were sent to the three-alarm fire and encountered flames raging throughout the structure, prompting firefighters to abandon trying to save it and instead turn to “saving the surrounding buildings, including a nearby senior living facility.”

Fire Capt. Ray Mendoza said that over a 16-hour period, “almost 6 million gallons of water were used to mitigate the fire, utilizing rotating engine crews.”

“Once the visible fire was extinguished, it still took several days before a complete search inside the building for potential victims could begin due to the unstableness of the structure and smoldering areas within,” Mendoza said.

No bodies were found in the remnants. What was left of the building was torn down, and the property is now a vacant lot.

Railsback said that the loss was estimated to be “in the millions of dollars.”

Detectives and arson investigators initiated a search for evidence that ultimately led to the identification of Avila as the person who was allegedly at the site when the fire began, according to the police spokesman.

Sadavandi is an associate of the defendant, but his role as an accessory was not explained.

He has a prior misdemeanor conviction for reckless driving, according to court records. Avila has two pending misdemeanor cases in Superior Court, but no listed convictions in Riverside County.

Copyright 2023, City News Service, Inc.

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