News Release News Release The City of Palo Alto
Communications Department
250 Hamilton Ave
Palo Alto, CA 94301


Subject :

Woman Arrested for Trying to Set Fire to Unoccupied RV
Contact : Zach Perron, Lieutenant, Police Department    650-329-2413
Palo Alto, CA – Police arrested a woman for arson after a witness observed her trying to set fire to an unoccupied RV, and are investigating her connection to another nearby vehicle fire that had occurred in the same area about 90 minutes earlier.

On Sunday, May 1, 2016, at about 12:07 p.m., our 24-hour dispatch center received a call from a witness reporting a possible arson to a vehicle that had just occurred in the 700 block of El Camino Real.  The witness followed the suspect on foot from a distance until officers detained her without incident at 95 University Avenue a short time later.

The investigation revealed that the witness had watched the suspect light a piece of paper on fire, and then place the burning paper in the wheel well of an unoccupied RV (a 1985 Toyota motorhome) that had been parked on El Camino Real.  As the suspect left the area on foot, the witness immediately went over and extinguished the fire before following the suspect and calling police.  The RV sustained minor fire damage to the wheel well.  Police are not aware of any connection between the suspect and the RV or its owner.

Earlier that morning, at about 10:34 a.m., officers and personnel from the Palo Alto Fire Department had responded to a vehicle fire in the parking lot of Palo Alto High School at 50 Embarcadero Road (about two blocks away from the later fire).  In that case, an unoccupied 1991 Honda Accord had caught fire, causing damage to the hood and front windshield area.  Arson investigators from the Palo Alto Fire Department are investigating the cause of the fire.  Detectives are investigating any possible connection between the suspect and this earlier fire, as well as any links between the suspect and any other vehicle fires that have occurred in Palo Alto or surrounding communities.

Police booked 31-year-old Ursula Anne Zavala of East Palo Alto into the Santa Clara County Main Jail for one count of felony arson.  Zavala also had two outstanding misdemeanor warrants for which she was booked (one for vandalism out of San Jose, and the other for a municipal code violation out of Santa Clara), and officers also booked her for a misdemeanor probation violation.  Zavala is on probation in Santa Clara County stemming from convictions for violating a protective order and for falsely reporting a crime.  A booking photograph of the suspect is attached to this release.

Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call our 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413.  Anonymous tips can be e-mailed to or sent via text message or voice mail to 650-383-8984.  Tips can also be submitted anonymously through our free mobile app, downloadable at or