SAN JOSE -- He struck large, incinerating an enormous warehouse that spanned city blocks. He struck small, twice lighting up a trailer behind a church. He struck often, 12 times in five days.

He struck at the heart, destroying the longtime home of a couple scraping to get by and terrorizing neighbors in a huge swath near downtown San Jose.

So it was not surprising that the suspected perpetrator had a prolific past as a firebug, a history that includes setting fires both near and as far as the Grand Canyon, according to court records and authorities.

Patrick William Brennan
The suspect arrested for arson yesterday has identified as 48 year old San José resident Patrick William Brennan.

Patrick William Brennan, 48, of San Jose, who is also a registered sex offender, was arrested about 8 p.m. Wednesday after authorities, who had been shadowing him for a few days, descended on his mobile home on East San Antonio Street, nestled amid the neighborhoods he reportedly targeted. He surrendered quietly and was so cooperative that police said they are "certain" they have their man.

His capture ended a harrowing week that put residents and businesses east of downtown toward Highway 101 on constant guard against someone who, despite being caught on surveillance video and depicted in a police sketch, eluded investigators for days.

"We've been on edge, lots of sleepless nights," resident James La Vigna said. "We didn't know if this guy was going to come back. We didn't know if he would come after my house, too."

La Vigna's low-income parents -- Vince and Sharon La Vigna -- were rescued by neighbors after a fire that started on the couple's back porch quickly engulfed the whole house.

"When we found out that he was arrested, it was a sigh of relief," La Vigna said.

Brennan is jailed on $1 million bail after being booked on two counts of arson, though additional charges are expected.

Police didn't immediately release details about his occupation, but they said he may have had money from a conservator. His background includes an arrest and conviction in 2001 of one count each of sexual battery and assault for molesting an underage relative of his girlfriend at her Sunnyvale home.

In another high-profile local arson case, Brennan was convicted over a decade ago for setting 16 fires in the Santa Clara County foothills in 1999. He admitted to setting some fires near hiking trails, according to a story by this newspaper that year. At the time of that arrest, Brennan was a car wash employee who for a time lived in Campbell.

He also had a misdemeanor arson charge four or five years earlier for setting fire to forest debris in and around Grand Canyon National Park.

Because two of his convictions were felonies, Brennan is eligible for life imprisonment under the state's three-strikes law if he is convicted of the latest arsons.

Police said that a search of Brennan's trailer Wednesday turned up "items that definitely link him" to the arsons and that there is nothing to suggest he worked with anyone else.

"We're extremely certain we have the individual responsible for all the arsons that occurred in the city," said Eddie Garcia, assistant chief for the San Jose Police Department. "We're confident he acted alone in this."

The arrest followed exhaustive efforts by San Jose Fire Department arson investigators working with police, who boosted patrol staff in the areas of the fires as soon as arson investigators sensed a pattern.

On Saturday night, officers in the neighborhood saw someone they deemed a "person of interest" and notified their supervising sergeant, Sgt. Jason Kidwell. Kidwell started looking through an arsonist registry -- an internal law-enforcement database that culls information on convicted arsonists -- and ran across a photo that resembled home surveillance images and a police sketch generated after the week's incidents.

"The videos were crucial. They assisted us in identifying someone," Garcia said.

Police began tracking Brennan on Sunday night, and soon after, they coordinated with the fire department. On Wednesday night, members of SJPD's Covert Response Unit descended on Brennan's mobile home, where he lived alone, and arrested him. He appeared to be resigned to the outcome.

"He was very forthcoming, not agitated at all," Garcia said.

No specific motive for the fires was revealed. But for the time being, officials were glad they had removed a significant public threat.

"We're thrilled that the effort we put forth to stop what he was doing is finally coming to an end," said Barry Stallard, SJFD division chief.

The firebug's targets appeared to be random -- a church storage trailer, old houses, a warehouse. Some blazes erupted hours apart, usually between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m.

Among them were fires set at Sal Madrigal's business, MGM Drywall on Jan. 9 and 10 -- small fires that fizzled out or were put out by someone before major damage could occur. Madrigal and his employees spent several nights guarding their business after the incidents and other fires set by a serial arsonist operating in their neighborhood near downtown.

Madrigal said he called off the stakeouts Wednesday night after San Jose police told him they were increasing their presence in the area. He woke up Thursday morning to the news that San Jose police had arrested their prime suspect.

"It's the last thing you think before you go to sleep and the first thing when you wake up," Madrigal said. "It's definitely a relief it's been resolved."

Staff writer Tracey Kaplan contributed to this report.