Pubdate: Wed, 03 Jan 2001
Source: Oakland Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2001 MediaNews Group, Inc. and ANG Newspapers
Contact:  66 Jack London Sq., Oakland, CA 94607
Fax: (510) 208-6477
Author: Jason Bono, Staff Writer


OAKLAND -- Suspicious became malicious Tuesday when Oakland fire 
investigators determined arson caused a three-alarm, New Year's Eve blaze 
that displaced a controversial needle-exchange operation in Fruitvale.

Casa Segura, on the 3200 block of San Leandro Street, exchanges 
approximately 17,000 needles in its six clinic hours each week, putting 
clean needles in the hands of drug users.

The organization has been prosecuted three times for possession and 
distribution of drug paraphernalia, said executive director Chris 
Catchpool. It has also been the subject of heated City Council debate.

"There's a misunderstanding about our mission. There's a perception that 
we're aiding and abetting drug users. We are an HIV prevention and we are 
successful," said Catchpool.

The blaze originated in the second-story kitchen of the two-story building 
and spread to cause $250,000 in damage. Oakland Fire Department arson 
inspectors cite the possibility of accelerants, or incendiary chemicals, as 
evidence of foul play, said Captain Vicky Evans-Robinson.

"For an action of this magnitude to take place is shocking. We did not 
expect this. It feels like what has happened to abortion clinics -- fire 
bombing to shut them down. If it is arson, then this is an act of political 
terrorism, I feel," said Catchpool.

The crime has been referred to Oakland police for investigation, fire 
officials said.

The building's ground level primarily sustained heat and water damage, but 
destruction of the upper-level office space was more comprehensive.

"The entire top floor was burned out. We've lost client files, referral 
lists, computers, phones, fax machines. ... A lot of the nuts and bolts 
that it takes to run an organization were lost. We took a very heavy hit," 
Catchpool said.

"This is not something that we just stood around and gawked at. It was a 
very emotional thing to see this happen to our labor of love," he added. 
Casa Segura's operators do not yet know whether they will need to relocate. 
They are waiting to see what can be salvaged from the fire.

Despite losses, Casa Segura will continue to provide its needle-exchange 
services, as well as wound and abscess care, HIV and Hepatitis C testing, 
and street outreach to high-risk drug users without interruption, Catchpool 

Tuesday night, power generators and lamps in a parking lot allowed Casa 
Segura's needle exchange to take place.

"We have been burned out and are homeless, but will not shut down," said 
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